Obama "reframing" speech boils down to Reagan's 1982 argument

Barack Obama will give yet another speech in which he offers yet another “pivot” to jobs and the economy.  Oddly, for an address that the White House and Obama campaign are pushing so hard, they’re also trying mightily to tamp down expectations at the same time.  ABC News calls this an attempt to “hit a reset button”:

President Obama will use a speech in Ohio today effectively to hit a reset button on his re-election campaign, following a stretch of bad economic news and messaging missteps that have shaken Democrats’ confidence and caused some allies to sound the alarm.

At a community college outside Cleveland, Obama will seek to frame the economic debate with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, casting the November election as a stark choice rather than a referendum on his record. He will also warn that a President Romney would doom themiddle class.

“Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all our problems on its own,” said a campaign official describing the arc of Obama’s speech. “The President believes the economy grows not from the top down, but from the middle class up, and he has an economic plan to do that.”

Even this, though, is the same plan that Obama has followed all of his term: government-side stimulus, higher regulations, and class warfare.  White House sources have been warning all week not to expect anything new.  Frankly, no one expects anything new at this point anyway.  The GOP sent out an e-mail with a raft of statistics on previous “major addresses” by Obama on the economy, gleaned through searches of the White House website.  They comprise 10 different speeches in almost four years, with almost 50,000 words in the aggregate … and today will add zero new ideas to the mix.

But that’s actually the point.  Obama isn’t giving a speech today to offer new ideas, as James Carville and most Democrats have been urging after three years of economic malaise.  He’s trying to take a page out of the Ronald Reagan playbook and argue that America needs to “stay the course” rather than take a new direction on economic policy — and leadership.  In my column today for The Fiscal Times, I analyze the differences between 1982, when Reagan made his “stay the course” argument, and 2012 – and why Obama can’t win this argument:

Obama has had nearly four years for his policies to work, and they haven’t produced significant job creation, nor economic prosperity. By this time in the Reagan presidency, the US had produced five straight quarters of GDP growth of 6 percent or more, including three quarters above 8 percent.  In contrast, Obama’s policies haven’t produced a quarter of growth of even 4 percent in his entire term, and the highest-performing quarter for Obama in the past two years barely hit 3 percent. …

Even on the jobless rate, the context between Reagan, Bush, and Obama diverge – and not to Obama’s favor.  While unemployment spiked dramatically under Reagan, it didn’t result in an outflow of workers from the workforce.  The civilian population participation rate actually went up from 63.9 percent at the start of Reagan’s term to 64.2 percent at the midterms.  By the election in 1984, it rose to 64.5 percent, and rose rapidly to 66.2 percent by the end of Reagan’s second term. In Bush’s first term, the rate went from 67.2 percent — nearly its historical peak – to 65.8 percent, and ended in his second term at 65.7 percent, when Obama took the reins.

In contrast, Obama’s policies have resulted in a historic exodus from the workforce.  By the time of the recovery, four months after the passage of Obama’s stimulus bill, the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent and the participation rate still at 65.7 percent.

Three years later, the unemployment rate has dipped to 8.2 percent, but the participation rate has actually dropped below the level seen during Reagan’s “stay the course” argument to 63.8 percent.  That actually represents an improvement from the previous month, which hit a 30-year low at 63.6 percent.  The only reason the unemployment rate isn’t in double digits is because millions of former workers have despaired of finding work to the point where they no longer count in the statistics.

Reagan had been in office less than two years when he argued that America needed to “stay the course,” and even though joblessness skyrocketed higher, people hadn’t lost hope of finding a job.  In fact, even while unemployment spiked, more people entered the workforce than when Reagan took office.  The exact opposite is true for Obama, and he’s had three full years of “recovery” to get the economy going. America’s workforce is in despair now, and that makes a “four more years!” argument almost a sick joke.

What’s left? Henry Gomez reports for the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Obama will try to resurrect the Ghost of President Past:

When he launched his re-election bid in Columbus last month, President Barack Obama introduced a one-word, bumper sticker sales pitch for a second term: “Forward.”

But when he returns to Ohio this afternoon for a campaign rally at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Obama is expected to sound like an incumbent who has one eye firmly fixed on 2008 in the rearview mirror.

Better off today than you were four years ago? That’s a tricky question for the president to answer. He has struggled recently to articulate an economic message that resonates with voters — a dynamic amplified last week in the wake of disappointing employment numbers and Obama’s maladroit declaration that the private sector is “doing fine.”

So rather than offer specific new proposals for four more years, Obama today is likely to dwell on the recession he inherited from his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, according to Reuters. The wire service based its reporting on conversations with unidentified Democrats “familiar with the preparations for the address” at Tri-C.

Will it work?  Even Mika Brzezinski sounded skeptical yesterday on Morning Joe:


Scott Johnson accurately diagnoses the problem with this approach:

Virtually upon entering office, Obama signed off on enormous spending programs including the monumental stimulus bill. This included a $410 billion omnibus spending bill that Bush had refused to sign before he left office involving mind-boggling expansions of federal agencies such as the EEOC. More here and here.

The putative importance of deficit spending has been a doctrinal keystone of the administration. It gave us the trillion dollar stimulus program that held unemployment below 8 percent. At least it gave us the trillion dollar stimulus program. Remember, Mr. President, you didn’t want to let a crisis go to waste?

Obama’s blaming his predecessor for his own record as his first time comes to a close is incredibly unbecoming. Listen to his tone in the video. The whining makes him unlikable. But it is not just the tone that is off.

His comments are ineffective. It’s too soon to rewrite history. We know he is wildly stretching the truth. It is almost to the point where, as Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, every word he says is false, including “and” and “the.”

That argument was effective … in 2008.  It failed in 2010, something that most media analysts forget; Democrats accused Republicans of wanting to bring back Bush’s policies in the midterms — and got buried in a historic landslide.  If “stay the course” is all Obama has, he may face the same fate in November.

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