Have Americans mostly given up on the idea that a president has control over the economy and can fix it? Matthew Dowd suggested that possibility the other day, noting that his conversations with voters had persuaded him that voters want a president who will level with them about how bad things are and how long it will take for things to get better, and that this dynamic could favor Obama if he heeds it.
Now, in the read of the morning, Ronald Brownstein has done his own interviews with Colorado swing voters, and he’s reached a similar conclusion, noting that an unexpectedly broad set of factors may be driving voter decisionmaking:
The most powerful glue for many of the president’s voters was the sense that he has earned a kind of sweat equity in delivering grudging progress against the same economic gales so disruptive in their own lives....many voters here seem to be measuring Obama’s performance not against the booming 1990s, but rather the rocky ground they mostly have been traveling over since....
That sense of sustained struggle provides the yardstick for judging Obama. Those defecting from him, while generally unconvinced that Romney could do better, seem ready to simply try another approach. Those sticking with Obama believe that he’s produced all that can be asked against the headwinds of a turbulent new normal. Ironically, if the candidate of hope from 2008 survives, it may be partly because many Americans, after a grueling decade, view both the presidency and the economy with lowered expectations.
E.J. Dionne noted the other day that Mitt Romney seems to believe that all he has to do to get elected is ensure that enough Americans answer Ronald Reagan’s question — are you better off than you were four years ago? — in the negative, or at least conclude that the recovery is so slow that it’s time to fire the guy in charge. This is a rule of thumb that seems to be guiding many observers of this election. But as E.J. points out, swing voters’ views of the economy are more complex than that.
Brownstein’s reporting seems to bear this out. His survey was obviously unscientific, but if Brownstein is on to something, voters may be taking a longer view of the Obama presidency, and a more nuanced view of the causes and depth of our economic problems, than the conventional wisdom suggests. Romney may not be able to win by simply banking on the possibility that voters will cast their vote simply as a referendum on the state of the economy on Election Day. As Andrew Sullivan argues, voters may end up making a much more complex series of calculations about the two candidates’s characters and concrete proposals. At a minimum, this dynamic is worth watching. We may be looking at an election that ends up breaking all the old rules.
* Does Romney testimony contradict campaign claims? The Huffington Post gets hold of sworn testimony Romney delivered in 2002, in which he asserted that he repeatedly attended board meetings related to Bain Capital investments in the three years since 1999, when he’d said he left the company.
* Romney campaign goes quiet about testimony: Politico’s Alex Burns presses the Romney camp:
The Romney campaign repeatedly declined to say Thursday evening whether the Republican presidential candidate attended any meetings or had any contact with Bain Capital during the time he ran the Olympic Games.
* Fact-checker says Obama campaign is blowing smoke: Glenn Kessler takes another look at the whole controversy and stands by his assessment that Romney left the company in 1999, and I’d agree that there is still no conclusive evidence that Romney had any active involvement in company decisions.
But in political terms, the broader question still remains: Is Romney really going to be able to continue asserting he bears no responsibility for and shouldn’t be associated with the activities of a company that listed him as chairman and CEO?
* The Romney pushback continues: The Romney campaign is out with another ad hitting back at the Bain onslaught, this one contrasting Obama’s own 2008 words about rising above negative tactics with what it suggests are false attacks on Romney’s record.
This is in keeping with the strategy of playing on voter disappointment with Obama’s failure to live up to the lofty expectations he set for himself. It also suggests, again, that the Romney campaign has decided it must fully engage in fending off the Bain attacks because they may be working.
* Obama says Bain scrutiny entirely appropriate: Obama points out that Romney’s business background is the “premise” of his whole case for the presidency, and adds:
“I think it is entirely appropriate to look at that record and see whether in fact his focus was creating jobs and he successfully did that. And when you look at the record there are questions there that have to be asked.”
I’d only add that there’s bipartisan agreement that questions about Romney’s finances and business background are legit.
* Economy set to pick up a bit? The New York Times surveys economic experts who think that various metrics indicate that the economy is set to improve slightly in the comnig months. While they caution that it will still remain sluggish, what will likely count politically is whether voters perceive that the economy is moving in the right direction, which these experts say looks likely.
* How many Dems will vote against Obama tax plan? Jim Webb announces he’s a No. The reason this bears watching is that for political purposes, Harry Reid needs to prove a majority of the Senate backs Obama’s proposal to extend the middle class tax cuts — even if that doesn’t mean it can overcome a GOP filibuster.
How many other Dems will vote against extending the tax cuts on income up to $250,000 out of fear of being labeled by Republicans as a tax hiker?
* Medicaid expansion hitch is a bipartisan problem: It isn’t just Republicans: At least seven Democratic governors are still non-committal about whether they will opt in to the Medicaid expansion. This again underscoring the degree to which a key component of Obamacare, one that has been described as the moral core of the law, remains up in the air — and, along with it, millions of uninsured.
* And Romney and the super-rich: Paul Krugman goes big on the topic that, at bottom, this presidential election is really all about: No, a tiny increase in sacrifice by the top .01 percent won’t be catastrophic for the recovery, and no, what’s good for the super-rich isn’t necessarily good for the economy or the rest of us.
Update: The lead item above was edited for clarity.