February 11, 2013

A raft of stories over the weekend reported that Obama’s State of the Union address will focus heavily on the economy. But what remains to be seen is how aggressively Obama will use the high profile setting of a SOTU speech to make the case specifically for Keynesian economics. That is, how strongly will he press the arguments that spending cuts hurt the economy, and that the best way to deal with the deficit over the long term is by investing in economic growth and job creation?

The recent economic contraction — which was driven largely by reductions in defense spending — provides the perfect jumping off point for this case. There’s also the looming sequester cuts, which everyone agrees will scuttle the recovery if allowed to go forward. Obama has at times addressed the true nature of the relationship between government spending and economic recovery, though he sometimes couches it in careful language about having to avoid “self inflicted wounds.” I’m hoping Obama builds a much more extensive case explaining another of his oft-repeated phrases: “We can’t cut our way to prosperity.”

This would entail spelling out with total clarity that the GOP approach to the sequester — to replace it only with spending cuts, and no revenue increases — is not only uncompromising, but is also deeply wrongheaded, a profound threat to the recovery, and completely at odds with the approach to governing that carried the day in the last election.

In this context, it’s good to see, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports today, that Obama intends to be aggressive in his State of the Union speech. One person close to the drafting of the speech defined Obama’s approach to it with a 2,500 year old quote from Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu: “Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.”

If Obama makes good on the threat to be aggressive, there will be a great deal of gnashing of teeth among Republicans — and even neutral commentators — about his lack of “bipartisan outreach.” But Obama’s victory demonstrates that there is an emerging majority coalition of minorities, young voters, and college educated whites, especially women, that broadly shares his vision of governing. As Ron Brownstein recently detailed, this coalition is ascendant, and it is in Obama’s interests to keep speaking directly to these voters. His inaugural address, which laid out an expansive progressive vision that was all about reshaping the national debate around this coalition’s core priorities, was mocked by Republicans as too “liberal,” as speaking only to the base. But a majority of Americans, and a majority of self described moderates, ended up approving of it.

Obama just decisively won reelection against a party whose central argument was that we should get our fiscal problems under control with deep cuts to government alone and more tax cuts to wealthy job creators. He defeated that case with an argument for expanding, rather than contracting, government investment in the long term economic security of the middle class. There’s no need to shy away from a very aggressive delineation of the philosophical differences between the two parties — or from the case that the GOP’s only viable remaining course of action is to accept the need for meaningful compromise on the core policy questions at the heart of those differences.

* Dems going on offense on guns: The DCCC is out with a new memo this morning arguing that the political winds have shifted in the gun debate, and that Dems intend to capitalize on it if Tea Party Republicans oppose Obama’s gun control efforts, by painting the GOP as hostile to even the most sensible progress on our most pressing problems. (Separately, the labor backed Americans United for Change is sending an “I put gun maker $ before kids’ safety” sticker to Congressional Republicans.)

As noted here recently, 16 Republicans who represent districts carried by Obama,  and another 15 to 20 who represent suburban or partly suburban districts, are being eyed by Dems as possible backers of popular proposals such as expanded background checks. For too long Dems have treated the gun debate as a certain loser, so it’s good to see them proceeding from the assumption that the politics of it favor them.

* Dems should prioritize expanded background checks: The Post editorial board makes a good argument for making the universal background check the backbone of whatever proposal is brought to the floor for a vote. After all, it’s only backed by eight or nine in 10 Americans, depending on the poll. Perhaps a handful of Republicans will bring themselves to support something that quite literally has near universal support?

Daily reminder: If Obama and Dems pass expanded background checks and a measure to crack down on trafficking, that will constitute getting two thirds of Obama’s gun agenda — a major achievement with or without the assault weapons ban.

* Crankin’ up the pressure on background checks: Gabrielle Giffords’ new PAC has released a powerful new ad that uses footage of memorials to those slain in mass shootings to make the case for universal background checks. It’s unclear where the ad is running, but it is a sign that reformers will continue working very hard to keep the mass shootings in the news, in the full knowledge that public passions must not be allowed to subside before Congress takes action.

* Young people favor “Big Government”: The New York Times has an interesting look at a trend that could have long term consequences: Young voters are embracing an expansive vision of government as a positive and constructive force in people’s lives. It’s another reminder of what I touched on above: There is good reason for Obama to keep speaking directly to the emerging Dem coalition of the future — millenials, minorities, and college educated whites, especially women.

* Republicans continue pretending Dems haven’t agreed to spending cuts: As Steve Benen details, the Sunday shows were alive with the echoes of Republicans continuing to claim that, hey, we have already raised taxes; now it’s time to avert the sequester only with spending cuts! I would refer these lawmakers to this chart, which neatly demonstrates that Democrats have agreed to significantly more in concessions towards deficit reduction than Republicans have.

* Yes, the GOP is partly responsible for creating the sequester: Glenn Kessler takes apart the latest talking point: The idea that Obama, not Republicans, is responsible for the looming sequester cuts because the White House suggested creating the sequester in the first place:

The sequester was clearly an idea advanced by the White House in order to avoid a second debt ceiling showdown in Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Thus, the sequester was structured to include only spending cuts — and to take effect after the election if the supercommittee was unable to reach a deal. But Republicans agreed to this plan and thus also are equally responsible for the looming across-the-board cuts, absent a bipartisan agreement to delay or change them.

I would add that the whole thing was only made necessary in the first place because Republicans took the step of using the debt ceiling — and the threat of widespread financial disaster — to get what they wanted.

* No, both sides do not invent their own realities: Paul Krugman devotes a column to detailing a basic difference between the two parties: Republicans actively try to perpetuate ignorance and suppress fact as a means to accomplishing political and policy ends, and Democrats don’t:

[w]hile Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place. The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.