Here’s David Axelrod, on CNN today, pushing back on Candy Crowley’s suggestion that Obama bears some of the blame for Congress’s failure to act on the economy:
I think this is something — something different going on right now. When you have the leader — the Republican leader of the Senate say, our number one goal — in the midst of this economy, our number one goal is to defeat the president, and they’re acting like it.
They don’t want to cooperate. They don’t want to help. Even on measures to help the economy that they traditionally have supported before, like a payroll tax cut, like infrastructure, rebuilding our roads and bridges and surface transport. These — so you have to ask a question, are they willing to tear down the economy in order to tear down the president or are they going to cooperate?
And, listen, there’s a reason why the Congress is at nine percent in some polls, approval, lowest in history. Because this is different than we’ve ever seen before.
This is an argument that many Congressional Dems and surrogates, such as messaging chief Chuck Schumer, have been making for some time now. But to my knowledge Obama campaign officials have not been willing to go here in quite this way in a high profile setting (there was a fundraising email that made a similar case a few weeks ago). At the very least, this may be the first time a top Obama campaign official has linked this argument to the idea that this GOP behavior may be historically unprecedented, and that it may be a key reason for Congress’ historical unpopularity — it’s a broadening of the indictment.
As you know, Obama’s newly aggressive populism and (gasp) partisan rhetoric has sparked a good deal of handwringing and complaining from centrist columists (see Brooks, David) and leading GOP officials (see Ryan, Paul), who have been arguing that the new approach is somehow out of bounds or that it risks alienating the middle of the country. Axelrod’s amplification of the charge that the GOP may be tanking the economy on purpose suggests the Obama campaign isn’t taking these objections too seriously.
Indeed, it’s worth asking whether we’re seeing a fundamental shift in the thinking of the Obama team and some Dems — a basic recognition that the old rules don’t apply anymore, that the unprecedented tactics being employed by the opposition require a new kind of response. As Dana Milbank notes, you can see the evidence of this in the unapologetic populism driving Elizabeth Warren’s Senate candidacy, which suggests that “Democrats will no longer play by Marquess of Queensbury rules while their opponents disembowel them.”
But this may be about something broader than just a new approach to Republicans. The Occupy Wall Street protests; our political conversation’s intense new focus on inequality and economic justice; and the extraordinary levels of voter anxiety and dissatisafaction with our institutions all seem to suggest that the political landscape is shifting in ways we can’t really appreciate yet. It looks like the Obama campaign is placing its bet on what kind of political response these big changes are demanding.