President Obama tries to change the subject
President Obama’s decision to make remarks — and take questions from reporters — Friday morning on the economy was a seemingly obvious attempt to pivot away from his worst week, politically speaking, in months.
It almost certainly won’t work, however, because Obama offered little new in terms of policy and adopted a largely presidential — rather than a political — approach to the questions reporters posed to him.
Obama’s main message on Friday was the same one that he has advocated for months and months. In short: There are jobs proposals that he has offered to Congress that they have refused to act on. They should do so. Immediately — if not sooner. (Obama uttered the words “right now” in relation to when Congress should act no less than four times in his prepared statement.)
The problem with that argument is that anyone who follows politics at all closely knows that there is a zero percent chance of any movement on other portions of the jobs bill prior to the election.
What Obama is trying to do then is what he has been trying to do for months, which is lay the blame for the lack of job growth at the feet of Republicans in Congress.
While it’s not a bad strategy to run against Congress — particularly given the rampant unpopularity of that institution — there are two potential problems with Obama’s strategy.
The first is that Democrats control the Senate, a fact that allows Republicans to muddy the political waters when it comes to what role Congress has played in blocking progress on jobs.
Second, and more importantly, history has shown that the American public broadly believes the stewardship of the economy is the responsibility of the president. What that means is that when economic times are good, the president — whether Democrat or Republican — gets more credit than he probably should, and when economic times are bad he gets more blame.
(Also keep an eye on President Obama’s statement that “the private sector is doing fine” — a line Republicans are sure to seize on.)
Aside from introducing nothing new — rhetorically or policy-wise — in today’s press conference, the other reason Obama won’t likely see the subject changed heading into the weekend is that he seemed reluctant to look even a tiny bit like a candidate while standing at the presidential podium.
He spent lots — and lots — of time on a explanation of the European economy and dodged directly castigating Republicans at almost every turn. Even when he did, Obama was markedly more measured than he has been on the campaign trail.
“If Republicans want to be helpful...what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments,” said Obama at one point. At another he said that Republican economic policies would “add weakness to the economy”.
It was more rounded-edges rhetoric than sharp contrasts — a clear sign that Obama (and his political team) were worried about sending an image of him as campaigner-in-chief to the voters and the political class.
To be clear, Obama’s press conference won’t hurt him. (Remember: the kind of people who watch mid-day presidential press conferences are the professional political class who are not exactly representative of the average, undecided voter.)
But if Obama and his team were hoping to change the subject off of last week’s bad jobs report, it seems unlikely they’ll succeed.