President Obama has taken a very different posture over the last month or so, adopting a more confrontational pose when dealing with obstinate Republicans, and embracing a more populist economic agenda. Despite predictions that Obama would buckle and cave, he hasn’t — the president has been consistent and aggressive in pushing a strong jobs bill, and urging popular tax measures to pay for it.
Several pundits are not at all pleased. David Brooks, Mark Penn, and Mark Halperin all weighed in recently, saying the White House’s message doesn’t appeal to centrist and independent voters. Politico recently declared, “Obama sparks middle-of-road rage.” National Journal said last week the president risks “chasing away” independents and disaffected Republicans with economic “populism.”
Practically all available polling suggests the pundits are mistaken, most notably the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed the president getting a significant boost over Republicans — from Dems and independents alike — when it comes to who in Washington has the edge when it comes to creating jobs.
It leads Ruy Teixeira to explain today that the “punditocracy” is off track. Obama’s “optimizing strategy” stands to improve his standing in key ways.
The first is improving the actual economy. Obviously, Republicans have little interest in moving on Obama’s jobs plan, but pressing the issue and mobilizing public opinion is probably the only way to get even parts of it through Congress. And Obama desperately needs improvement in the economy by any means necessary. It is by far his biggest negative, but a negative that can be mitigated by even moderate growth during the election year.
Second, Obama needs to create as much uncertainty in the minds of voters as possible about who is responsible for current economic conditions. As incumbent, he will inevitably get most of the blame, but there is a lot of difference between most and all. The current strategy is perfectly designed to create that uncertainty by identifying Republicans as the obstacle to jobs growth.
Third, Obama needs to put issues in play where he is overwhelmingly on the side of public opinion and his opponent has unpopular positions that he cannot wiggle out of. The current strategy does that as well by highlighting GOP refusal to raise taxes on the rich, even in the name of creating jobs. The GOP commitment to protecting the rich can (and will) be fruitfully connected to known GOP commitments like ending Medicare and slashing Social Security.
Obama doesn’t alienate swing voters by pushing policies that swing voters like. I’m glad the White House is ignoring these pundits, and can only hope officials continue to do so.