Give Barack Obama this much credit: the man really knows how to pivot. Or at least he really knows how to talk about pivoting. Ever since late 2009, the Obama administration keeps insisting that it will pivot to jobs and the economy, and every time they end up riding some hobby horse rather than trying to get anything done. In the campaign context, they’ve tried everything they can to avoid talking about the economy, throwing up one distraction after another in an attempt to frame the election around Mitt Romney’s supposed oddities rather than Obama’s performance.
How successful have they been? Last night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama is now pivoting — excuse me, “reframing” — his campaign message toward the economy:
President Barack Obama will use a campaign policy speech Thursday to contrast his preferred approach for the country’s economic future with ideas proposed by his likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, people familiar with the speech said.
Finally! The candidate will address the issue that most voters put at the top of their priority list, rather than gay marriage and Romney’s prep-school antics. What new solutions will he offer? Er …
Mr. Obama’s address in Cleveland, described by his aides as a “framing” speech, isn’t expected to include any major new proposals. While some of his political advisers had pushed for that, his economic team made clear they don’t see many fresh options, particularly when Congress hasn’t passed the bulk of a jobs bill that the president unveiled nine months ago, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Well, the Senate is controlled by his own party. If they haven’t passed Obama’s agenda — indeed, his own team seems entirely disinterested in it, to the extent they know about it at all — maybe that’s a hint that some new thinking is required. Instead, Obama plans to push ahead with the same, tired proposals that have received bipartisan indifference. And most worrisome for Obama’s allies is that the administration still hasn’t come up with a Plan B:
People familiar with the speech say the White House believes those proposals still represent Mr. Obama’s best ideas for spurring the economy, and there are no alternative policies waiting in the wings.
Small wonder that Obama hasn’t wanted to discuss the economy. He has nothing left to say. Dana Milbank writes today of the deepening conclusion in Washington that the month shows Obama running out of gas — and so is the economy. Obama administration officials are now trying to downplay expectations for a Recovery Summer, emphasis mine:
For the White House, it was just the latest entry in the when-it-rains-it-pours ledger. This has been one of the worst stretches of the Obama presidency. In Washington, there is a creeping sense that the bottom has fallen out and that there may be no second term. Privately, senior Obama advisers say they are no longer expecting much economic improvement before the election. …
The AP asked about the president’s unfortunate private-sector-is-fine remark. The Reuters correspondent asked about the economic “head winds” from Europe. Ed Henry of Fox News Channel asked about the looming contempt-of-Congress vote against Attorney General Eric Holder. Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News asked about the Supreme Court striking down Obamacare. Norah O’Donnell of CBS News asked about calls for a special prosecutor to probe leaks. Victoria Jones of Talk Radio News asked about the stalled talks with Pakistan.
Carney sought relief by calling on TV correspondents from swing states, but the one from Wisconsin asked about the failed attempt to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the one from Nevada asked about her state’s unemployment rate, the nation’s highest.
It’s time for fresh ideas, and it’s clear that Obama doesn’t have any.
Update: James Carville’s Democracy Corps says it has to be everything but the economy, stupid:
In a new report released by James Carville’s liberal nonprofit public opinion research group, Democracy Corps, data from focus groups shows that Barack Obama is taking the wrong approach to the campaign by focusing on economic issues.
The co-authors of the report, Carville, Stan Greenberg and Erica Seifert, claim that the Obama campaign must “move to a new narrative” in order to be successful in November. The authors use the first person plural “we” throughout the report to describe Democratic efforts.
The current campaign is focused on success in the economic recovery, but Carville’s group says the strategy is “wrong” and “will fail.” The only reason Obama is keeping up in the campaign is because voters perceive Romney as “out of touch with ordinary people.”
Even that’s a thin reed for hope:
While most of the voters in the focus groups were forceful in their complaints about Romney’s lack of connection with the working class, they seemed to agree that he would do a better job than Obama on the economy.
Time to recall Julia from the Island of Misfit Campaign Mascots?