Failing to ‘focus like a laser beam’?

FAILING TO ‘FOCUS LIKE A LASER BEAM’?…. There’s a fair amount of attention today on this piece from political analyst Charlie Cook, who believes Democratic leaders made a “miscalculation” by trying to pass their policy agenda in 2009, instead of focusing all of their efforts on the economy.

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree over the substance and details of what President Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to do on health care reform and climate change. But nearly a year after Obama’s inauguration, judging by where the Democrats stand today, it’s clear that they have made a colossal miscalculation.

The latest unemployment and housing numbers underscore the folly of their decision to pay so much attention to health care and climate change instead of focusing on the economy “like a laser beam,” as President Clinton pledged to do during his 1992 campaign. Although no one can fairly accuse Obama and his party’s leaders of ignoring the economy, they certainly haven’t focused on it like a laser beam.

Like Kevin Drum, I honestly don’t know what this means.

Immediately upon taking office, President Obama began crafting an economic recovery package, and succeeded in getting one passed. Despite hysterical shrieks from Republicans and the Tea Party crowd — both of which still believe tax cuts and spending cuts would have been more effective, reality notwithstanding — the stimulus effort worked in improving the economy and preventing a depression. Among credible, independent economists, this isn’t even controversial anymore.

To hear Cook tell it, Obama and congressional Dems should have pivoted from focusing on the economy to … focusing some more on the economy. I’m wondering what it is, exactly, Cook has in mind. Policymakers had to wait as the recovery initiative began to improve the economy, and all the while, the administration not only pumped the funds into the system, while the Treasury and the Fed worked to bring stability to the system. As a result, the crisis has passed, and the economy is significantly stronger than it was.

What, literally, would Cook have had policymakers do differently? Wait for photographers to take pictures of the president and his team staring at charts? Give a bunch of speeches?

To be sure, the stimulus package should have been bigger and more ambitious, and the federal housing policy fell short in some key areas. But that’s not the point Cook is making here — he’s saying major policy initiatives such as health care and energy, despite their direct impact on the economy and growth, should have been put off indefinitely while leaders “focused” on the economy.

It’s obviously an argument made with hindsight, but in retrospect, the “miscalculation” wasn’t tackling health care reform, it was taking so long to bring it to a vote.