wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

President Obama’s (very) cautious economic optimism

at 06:30 AM ET, 04/16/2012

Two of President Obama’s key surrogates took to the weekend political chat circuit to spread the message that the administration’s economic policies were working — kind of, sort of.


David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, answers questions during a panel discussion, "2012: The Path to the Presidency", at the University of Chicago in Chicago on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Senior strategist David Axelrod in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” said that “The choice in this election is between economy that produces a growing middle class and that gives people a chance to get ahead and their kids a chance to get ahead, and an economy that continues down the road we are on, where a fewer and fewer number of people do very well, and everybody else is running faster and faster just to keep pace.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithnerappearing on ABC’s “This Week” — was decidedly guarded about making predictions about where the economy is headed. Asked whether economic growth had stalled after a disappointing March jobs report, Geithner answered: “We don’t know yet.” He also acknowledged that it’s “still a very tough economy out there.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s campaign quickly jumped on Axelrod’s comments, casting them as a sign that even one of the president’s own advisers had acknowledged that things weren’t getting any better under the incumbent.

In truth, however, the comments by Axelrod and Geithner speak to the conundrum that the Obama team faces whenever they speak about the economy.

On the one hand, the president and his administration need to project confidence that a) they know what they’re doing and b) what they’re doing is working.

On the other, there is nothing more politically toxic than telling people it’s sunny out when all they see is rain clouds. And there’s a fair amount of recent polling data that suggests the majority of Americans still don’t feel good about the nation’s economic health.

Here’s two: 1) In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 76 percent of Americans said they believe the country is still in a recession. 76 percent! 2) In that same survey, 64 percent of respondents said the country was headed off on the “wrong track,” while just 33 percent said it was moving in the “right direction”.

Given that lingering pessimism, it’s impossible for Obama or any of his main surrogates to sound too rosy about the current state of the economy (or its future) for fear of appearing out of touch. (For an example of how disastrous that can be in politics, check out the aftermath of Sen. John McCain’s pronouncement that “the fundamentals of the economy are sound” in the fall of 2008. Not so good.)

And yet, they can’t appear to be too down about things either for fear of running into a Jimmy Carter “malaise” problem.

That puts Obama and his administration between a rock and a hard place or Scylla and Charybdis (if you are feeling myth-y) on the economy. That’s not a comfortable place to be, but unless the next few jobs reports surprise — in a good way — it may be a position Democrats will have to get used to heading into the fall.

Romney’s ‘working moms’ problem: Romney and Republicans may not have as solid a leg to stand on when it comes to stay-at-home moms.

Despite the GOP’s outrage over Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen’s contention that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life,” Romney’s past words on the topic suggest he may not view raising children as “work” either.

In a January town hall in Manchester, N.H., Romney said he wants mothers receiving welfare to work outside the home.

“I said, for instance, that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work,” Romney said of his time as governor of Massachusetts. “And people said, ‘Well that’s heartless.’ And I said ‘No, no, I’m willing to spend more giving daycare to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.’”

It’s not quite as cut and dry a comment as Rosen’s, but it does suggest that Romney sees a difference between working to raise children and working outside the home, which is the point Rosen was trying to make.

Democrats will use this to try and turn the tables on Romney, but it’s a little convoluted, so we’re not sure it’s a game changer.

Tea party not so relevant: New polling shows support for the tea party movement is stable, but the movement is also seen as less and less relevant.

Three years after the movement launched, Washington Post/ABC News polling shows six in 10 Americans say they aren’t interested in hearing more about the tea party, and half of people say they like the movement less and less the more they hear about it.

This pretty much squares with what we’ve seen during the primary campaign. Compared to two years ago, there isn’t the same kind of conservative enthusiasm for taking out less-conservative Republican incumbents and candidates.

Fixbits:

Romney’s campaign will grow quickly.

Dick Cheney all-but-endorses Romney.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sounds like she’s close too.

An anonymous donor contributed $10 million to Crossroads GPS last year.

The Secret Service scandal may grow, suggests Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

Democratic women’s group Emily’s List will endorse western New York Reps. Louise Slaughter and Kathy Hochul today. Hochul is a top GOP target, and Slaughter faces a tough opponent.

Embattled Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) gets a primary challenger — one who doesn’t want to take any questions.

Lorne Michaels wants Romney to host “Saturday Night Live.”

Must-reads:

Lead-up to Labor Day may determine winner of presidential race” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

Mack campaign loses luster in Senate race” — Marc Caputo and Adam C. Smith, Miami Herald

Politics Doesn’t Stop at the Water’s Edge” — Reid Wilson, National Journal

History Won’t Help Pick Romney’s Running Mate” — Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg

Robert Caro’s Big Dig” — Charles McGrath, New York Times

Obama Camp, Sensing Shift, Bets on a Long Shot in Arizona” — Adam Nagourney, New York Times

Congressional Republicans turn focus to gas prices” — Paul Kane, Washington Post

 
Read what others are saying