The nation cheered the gangbusters growth under Ronald Reagan in 1984, and the mid-1990s Clinton economic boom. But when the economy is sour, politicians who litigate the past risk sounding tone-deaf to the troubles of the present. This is why Greenberg is now speaking up. He fears President Obama may make a huge mistake by trying to convince voters he saved the economy from a much worse fate. “No one is going to give you much credit for what you have done for this recovery,” says Greenberg, who has been testing messages in focus groups and polls for Democrats to use in the coming election. “Saying the economy is starting to make progress is bad.”…

But behind the scenes, there is a fierce debate in Democratic circles about just how much Obama should also be focused on explaining the recent past. As it now stands, the President’s stump speech features a backward-looking message at its core. Obama trumpets “more than 2 million jobs in the private sector” that have been created in the last 15 months. At a recent speech in Ohio he dismissed May’s bad jobs numbers as “bumps on the road to recovery.” In Greenberg’s estimation, this is an error on par with President Obama’s midterm election pitch, which described the nation as a car that had just gotten out of a ditch that Republicans drove into in the first place. The metaphor didn’t work, Greenberg explained in a recent memo, because “people thought they were still in the ditch.”