Top White House aides welcome confrontation

We talked over the weekend about a much-discussed New York Times piece on the White House considering its next step on the economy. As the NYT characterized it, there’s a debate underway within the West Wing: Bill Daley and David Plouffe have pushed for modest pragmatism intended to appeal to independents; Gene Sperling and others have pushed to be more ambitious and confrontational.

It didn’t exactly paint an encouraging picture. One approach envisions pleading with Republicans to throw some passable crumbs at the economy; the other would pass nothing but would clear the way to hammer the GOP.

A White House official told Greg Sargent this afternoon that the NYT piece didn’t tell the whole story.

According to the official, who wanted anonymity because officials don’t want to be quoted on record discussing internal messaging deliberations, Plouffe and Daley both favor a confrontational rhetorical approach that will blame Republicans for opposing any and all job creation efforts for purely political reasons; both are leading internal boosters of a message that accuses Republicans of putting party before country.

“Plouffe and Daley have been big proponents of the sort of messaging that you saw from the President’s Country before Party speech in Michigan,” the official says.

As we discussed last week, the message in Michigan was pretty confrontational. The president still had his gloves on, but at least he was throwing some credible jabs, (accurately) holding Republican responsible for self-inflicted national wounds, undermining the efficacy of the American political system, and caring more about elections than the national interests.

If Plouffe and Daley, allegedly the ones who are reluctant to be confrontational, are comfortable with this rhetorical line, that’s encouraging, and as Greg noted, it’s also “a bit at odds with the public picture that’s emerged.”

There’s still one question, though, that remains unanswered. The president’s team is probably on the same page when it comes to relatively aggressive rhetoric, and I’m glad. But we don’t yet know how this will translate into an economic policy agenda — do Obama and his team aim big, rally the base, and dare Republicans to get in the way (and accept the blame), or do they aim lower, and hope to put a few modest wins together in the hopes they’ll make a modest difference?

Greg hopes “the policies will follow the rhetoric.” So do I.