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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 12:26 PM ET, 11/14/2011

The toughest question Obama will have to answer

Steve Benen pillories NBC’s David Gregory for regurgitating a bunch of GOP talking points in his interview with DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz yesterday. I share Steve’s frustration — Gregory’s claim as fact that Republicans offered “tax increases” on the supercommittee, without also noting that they’ve demanded tax cuts on the wealthy — is pretty egregious.

But I do think it’s important to acknowledge that the line of questioning Gregory pursued is one that Obama’s team will have to answer convincingly as the reelection campaign unfolds. The simple truth is that while Obama wants the 2012 election to be about values and vision, Republicans also will have a say in what the election is about. And they are likely to have some success in framing the election along the lines of the question Gregory asked yesterday:

MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman, he’s, he’s had the job. They have been his policies. You concede Americans are not better off after his leadership?
REP. SCHULTZ: Well, what I concede is that we do have a long way to go, but we absolutely have begun to turn things around, and we have made steady, but not quick enough, progress. I mean, before President Obama took office, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month, David. And now we’ve had 20 straight months of growth in the private sector...
President Obama knows and believes that we need to put the partisanship aside, we need Republicans and Democrats to work together. That’s what he’s pushing so hard for. That’s why he proposed and is pushing for the American Jobs Act. And he — and it’s why, because he knows we can’t wait, that he’s signing executive orders to move the economy forward on his own, since the Republicans won’t work with him.

Is that a good enough answer? As I reported on Friday, I had a chance to talk to the Obama team about this problem: How do you rebut the GOP charge that Obama has had his four years, and the economy is still in the toilet? The Obama team recognizes that they face a strategic dilemma in answering this question. While a variety of metrics show that the economy is better now than it was when Obama took office, arguing that things would have been worse without his policies is a delicate case to make while people are still suffering. That’s why you keep hearing Obama taking care to point out that many people are not better off than they were four years ago.

Or, as Ben Smith put it, persuading voters to see an “invisible line” between yourself and a “worse alternative” is a “major political challenge.”

The Obama team, of course, will continue to emphasize that Republicans are blocking Obama jobs creation policies that the American people support, and they will perhaps amplify the charge that Republicans are deliberately trying to tank the recovery in order to take back the White House. But it’s still unclear whether voters not schooled in the realities of filibuster abuse and Senate procedure will care why Obama’s policies aren’t getting passed or why government isn’t acting to fix the crisis. Obama will also face another delicate balancing act: Persuading voters of the scale of the challenges he inhereted, without giving Republicans an opening to charge he’s ducking blame for what happened on his watch.

Separately, Wasserman Schultz’s answer left out what will be a key aspect of the Obama team’s handling of this problem: Pointing out that the policies that the Republican candidate would bring back are what created the mess in the first place. A senior official paraphrased the pushback to me as follows: “The high unemployment rate, the inequity, these derive specifically from the policies that Rick Perry or Mitt Romney want to bring back .... We’ve had 20 straight months of private sector job creation. Why on earth would we want to go back to that nightmare?”

At any rate, keep an eye on how the Obama team handles this question going forward. It will be pivotal.

By  |  12:26 PM ET, 11/14/2011

 
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