It is never a good thing to form the circular firing squad before the election.
Over the weekend, veteran political operative Bob Shrum pronounced on CBS’s “Face the Nation”: “I think we ought to just face reality here. [If] you just let this be a referendum, I don’t think the president could win.” I other words, no one is going to believe President Obama deserves four more years; The only hope is to scare people.
The former DNC chairman and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell went rogue: “Of course [Mitt Romney] is qualified, he’s been governor of a big state, he ran a successful business, recused the Olympics.” He slapped down the current Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), for questioning Romney’s credentials: “You lose your credibility. I mean this is — and no offense to Herman Cain — this isn’t Herman Cain. Governor Romney has significant experience, which very much qualifies him for high executive office in this country.”
Obama is caught between the rock and the hard place outlined by these pols: He can’t run credibly on his record, and he can’t run credibly on the argument Romney is unqualified or disqualified by his Bain experience.
So why doesn’t Obama run on a second-term agenda, or rather, come up with a second-term agenda? Several things make that approach problematic as well.
To begin with, voters would reasonably question why he didn’t roll out such policies for 3 1/2 years. A belated policy offensive would confirm Romney’s argument that Obama has failed to lead.
In addition, Obama is, I suspect, out of ideas. He has already gotten multiple stimulus plans, Obamacare, etc. The liberal idea bank account (raise taxes, borrow gobs, spend gobs) is overdrawn.
Moreover, this just isn’t what Obama does. In the 2008 campaign, he kept things vague. In his first two years, he deferred to the House Democrats. He either has no interest in policy development or no desire to spend time selling his ideas.
And finally, if he really told us what he wanted to do (what “flexibility ” he wanted), it would not include paring down the welfare state. We know from his proposed budgets, his rejection of Bowles-Simpson and his inane Buffett tax that he is a garden variety tax-and-spend Democrat. And who wants to tell the voters that?
That leaves, I would suggest, one option (other than feverishly praying for a miraculous economic rebound): Extend the Bush tax cuts. NO! Oh, yes.
In doing so, he would give a huge shot of confidence to the markets, provide maybe the only chance for a burst of economic activity and show him in fact to be a bipartisan leader. And the debt? Well, if the Supreme Court invalidates Obamacare, that spending albatross comes off the table (and will also give investors and employers cause for celebration). And then he can embrace those cuts Vice President Biden came up with in the summer of 2011 and rattled around the supercommittee. He could rightly defend himself that these steps are urgent, given the European financial situation, the slowdown in China’s economy and our own job-creation woes.
Democrats will grumble. But do they have a better idea?