Over the weekend, a stir broke out on the left when the Times reported that top Obama advisers David Plouffe and William Daley are privately advocating a non-confrontational approach towards the GOP on the economy. The story noted that an internal debate had broken out between the non-confrontational camp — which advocates that Obama should win independents by sticking only to non-ambitious ideas for the economy that have a chance of passing — and those who want a more aggressive effort to propose bigger ideas that the GOP will reject, allowing Obama to hammer Republicans for purposeful obstruction on the economy.
Liberal commentators like Steve Benen, Paul Krugman, Calculated Risk and Mark Thoma all noted that the story bodes ill for the likelihood that the White House will propose anything genuinely meaningful or substantial in the way of job-creation policies.
For what it’s worth, I’ve asked for some clarification from the White House, and a senior administration official shed a bit more light on what Plouffe and Daley actually believe.
According to the official, who wanted anonymity because officials don’t want to be quoted on record discussing internal messaging deliberations, Plouffe and Daley both favor a confrontational rhetorical approach that will blame Republicans for opposing any and all job creation efforts for purely political reasons; both are leading internal boosters of a message that accuses Republicans of putting party before country.
“Plouffe and Daley have been big proponents of the sort of messaging that you saw from the President’s Country before Party speech in Michigan,” the official says.
In that speech, Obama implicitly accused Republicans of opposing an array of job-creation proposals because of their refusal “to put the country ahead of party,” adding that they would “rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” Some liberals worry that by directing his fire at Congress in general, Obama isn’t calling out Republicans directly enough, but it seems clear the White House is banking on media coverage making the target of Obama’s ire clear.
If this speech’s message is what Plouffe and Daley favor, this is a bit at odds with the public picture that’s emerged. The Times story suggested that the Plouffe/Daley camp worries that any ambitious proposals that seem designed only reveal the GOP as obstructionist will be seen as mere “speeches” by independents. The story also suggests Plouffe and Daley think continuing to reach deficit-reduction compromises with Republicans will prove more politically effective than drawing a sharp contrast with the GOP on the economy. But if Plouffe and Daley favor a continued effort to cast the GOP as blocking economic improvements for political reasons, that complicates the picture somewhat and suggests that the latter, too, will be central to the reelection campaign.
To be sure, this still doesn’t tell us how ambitious Obama is willing to be in terms of proposing genuinely ambitious and bold job creation policies in order to draw that contrast with the GOP. And liberals are right to worry that the current range of options being entertained is far too limited. But if the Obama team is serious about drawing a sharp contrast — as the senior official insists is the case — we can at least hope that the policies will follow the rhetoric.