It is becoming painfully apparent that the president has no message and no agenda. Excuses for the persistent economic slump, which President Obama delivered in his news conference on Friday, are not an agenda. The unintended message is: I can’t get anything done.
You might disagree with Mitt Romney’s message, but at least he has one. Consider this ad, one of several variations telling voters what he would do on “day one”:
What’s Obama’s big idea? The only specific one is not very big — pass his stimulus proposal to hire more teachers and build more schools. That’s it. It is not a serious economic recovery plan but instead a talking point to blame Congress for not doing something. Mara Liasson of NPR demolishes the notion that this is a meaningful item: “You know, stimulus two, whatever we want to call this, sounds pretty minor. I don’t think that the voters are going to buy that there is something that the president could have done if only Congress had passed this bill, the economy would be doing better. There is very little the president can do right now. That is the truth. Europe has a huge drag on the economy, potential to be even bigger. The fact that the first stimulus was poorly designed and that there couldn’t be any more of it is a problem. He is not going to get Congress to do anything between now and the election.”
The administration must be sensitive to this, so it invited New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza in to prowl around on a sort of scavenger hunt in search of a second-term agenda. In a very, very long piece in the magazine’s latest issue, Lizza talks to many people, recounts other presidents’ second terms but comes up with crumbs. He supposes that “there is a possibility that a second Obama term could begin with major deficit reduction and serious reform of taxes and entitlements.” Possibly. What would be the president's plan? I dunno. He tries again:
Increasingly, hints of Obama’s second-term vision are becoming evident on the campaign trail. On June 1st, Obama spoke before a luncheon crowd at a farm-to-table restaurant in a converted warehouse in the North Loop of Minneapolis, just yards from the Mississippi River. . . . “I believe that if we’re successful in this election — when we’re successful in this election — that the fever may break,” he said, “because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that.” He noted a few areas of possible compromise: deficit reduction, a highway bill, immigration, and energy policy. He repeated the phrase that is becoming a mantra for his campaign: “If we can break this fever.”
But what would those policies consist of? No clue. And is a highway bill really a big-picture item? (Moreover, it’s inconsistent with debt reduction.)
Indeed, if you have to roam around the White House in search of an agenda, chances are the president doesn’t have one and/or hasn’t articulated it. It is frankly appalling that with the magnitude of our challenges the president is offering us so little.
It is is also ridiculous, though hardly surprising, that the president isn’t asked some very basic questions. What would he do on day one? What is in his deficit reduction plan? There is no better evidence of the media’s disinclination to pressure the president or analyze the substance of what he plans to do than the dearth of questions on this topic.
Maybe next time Lizza could ask the president directly rather than trying to stitch together the appearance of an agenda from multiple spinners, none of whom can say definitively what the president will do.