Friday, October 28, 2011

Greg Sargent: "The true nature of Obama’s political dilemma"

Greg Sargent:
If Obama reads one thing on the Web today, I hope it’s this piece by Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein. It’s a very well argued takedown of the idea that Obama risks alienating the middle by aggressively drawing a sharp ideological contrast with Republicans over the need for expansive government action amid our severe national crisis.

The key to the piece is its identification of Obama’s political dilemma. As I’ve been noting here regularly, Obama’s problem is that even though the public supports his jobs policies, Republicans are likely to benefit from blocking them anyway — because voters may end up blaming Obama for the sense of dysfunction and continued suffering that will result from government’s failure to act. Winning the moral high ground by forever seeking compromise won’t help matters. Mann and Ornstein put it better:

The voting public might now say that it is more conservative and desirous of a more limited role for government, but that’s more an expression of their general frustration with the state of the economy and the seeming failure of ambitious government initiatives to produce tangible results than their true convictions. Move beyond these labels to ascertain public views on specific policy options and you quickly realize that a conservative swing in public opinion is a chimera...
Maneuvering tirelessly to stake out some elusive political center, in other words, won’t help Obama win over swing voters. It’ll just set him up for another year of looking weak and ineffectual...Obama should likewise know by now that working with a supercommittee whose Republican members are under orders from their House and Senate leaders to oppose all revenue increases is a fool’s errand. And imagining that a substantial center in the American public will respond positively to such an approach is pure fantasy ... if there is any hope of achieving bipartisan policy success, it will come from Republicans believing that blocking the president’s initiatives or offers will cause them political harm...
Obama’s new approach of turning up the heat — by calling out Republicans for their obstruction and their opposition even to ideas they have previously embraced, like a continuing payroll tax cut — actually has more chance of achieving ... policy outcomes ... than his conciliatory approach. Obama, at the center of today’s political spectrum, should therefore be explicit and forceful in communicating the stark differences between the parties and the source of inaction and gridlock in Washington.

The fact that Obama’s actual jobs policies and even his ideological disposition represent the middle of public opinion — even as generalized disapproval of him is running high — is absolutely central to understanding what’s happening in our politics right now. Yet it’s rarely acknowledged by our top shelf pundits. Obama’s best hope for winning Congressional action on the economy is to try to communicate this to Americans as clearly as possible and hope that they come to understand who is responsible for all the paralyis in the face of the crisis. Read the whole thing.

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