A word in defense of public relations, which Ed laments this morning is all the president has to offer on the “fiscal cliff” issue. As I argued yesterday, I think so far the president has been wise to play an outside game and has succeeded in getting the Republicans to blink on taxes.
His next move will be harder. President Obama has to decide when and how — or even whether — he wants to pivot to a discussion of spending reductions. Tax relief for the middle class is a considerably easier sell than cutting middle class entitlements.
From a purely political point of view, the president is well-positioned to wait. After all, unlike the Republicans, the president doesn’t have to change his position to signal his reasonableness; last year he told Speaker of the House John Boehner (-R-Ohio) he would consider significant cuts in spending, including entitlements.
But the best PR strategies have an end game in mind. Where does the president want to end up? With a comprehensive deal or a stepped process that makes a debt down payment to calm the waters and sets deeper deficit reduction targets for discussion and action in 2013? Presumably, this approach could also entail another fiscal cliff if an agreement cannot be reached.
This stepped approach may, of course, do nothing to calm the markets and could make our country once again look embarrassingly ungovernable, but it may be the necessary course for the administration. The election did a lot to cement the nation’s views on taxes, but little to inform on entitlements. An education and discussion needs to take place that prepares Americans for the inevitable. It’s time for Ross Perot’s educational charts to make a come back. Tim Russert, famous for his deficit charts, too, we miss you.