‘Big-government liberals’

‘BIG-GOVERNMENT LIBERALS’…. It appears that the story of the day — at least the one that’s generating the most discussion in political circles — is the big “Why Obama loses by winning” piece in Politico today. It covers a fair amount of ground, but it also includes a fair amount of misjudgments.

The article, written by John Harris and Jim VandeHei, ostensibly seeks to explore why President Obama keeps racking up historic accomplishments, but is nevertheless struggling politically. We see that the left’s unhappy; the right’s enraged; “independents” (whatever that means) have “turned decisively against the man”; and House Dems “are in near-insurrection.”

Harris and VandeHei have come up with a half-dozen possible explanations, but some of their assumptions leave much to be desired.

[O]n the issues voters care most about — the economy, jobs and spending — Obama has shown himself to be a big-government liberal. This reality is killing him with independent-minded voters — a trend that started one year ago and has gotten much worse of late. On the eve of his inaugural address, nearly six in 10 independents approved of his job performance. By late July of 2009 — right around the time Obama was talking up health care and pressuring Democrats to vote on cap-and-trade legislation — independents started to take flight.

Looking at “independents” as a coherent, self-contained group continues to be a mistake — there are different kinds of independents, and most don’t even agree with one another. But more importantly, Harris and VandeHei state, simply as fact, that the president “has shown himself to be a big-government liberal” on the economy. That’s an exaggeration that badly misleads readers.

Indeed, “big-government liberals” wanted a far bigger, more ambitious Recovery Act last year, but the president accepted a scaled-back package, despite the fears of White House economists, in order to overcome Republican obstructionism — GOP “moderates” wouldn’t let a better stimulus bill come up for a vote. The result was a Recovery Act that was very effective and did exactly what it set out to do, but has struggled to help generate a robust economic recovery because it needed to be bigger.

In other words, Harris and VandeHei have it largely backwards. Obama would be in a stronger position if he was more of a “big-government liberal,” not less.

It’s not just the stimulus, either. The White House has generally held back from pushing for more government intervention in the economy, in part because of legislative paralysis brought on by scandalous Republican obstructionism, and in part because the political team in the West Wing perceives the public as being hostile to more spending and higher deficits. Harris and VandeHei make it seem as if the president has been using Krugman columns and EPI reports as the administration’s economic game plan. That’s not even close to true.

I’ve found some of Obama’s moves to be terrific, and others far less so, but for Politico to simply accept as fact the notion that the president “has shown himself to be a big-government liberal” on the economy, which in turn sends voters fleeing in the other direction, just doesn’t match up to reality.