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Morning Jay: Blue Smoke and Mirrors

6:00 AM, Jun 15, 2011 • By JAY COST
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(Jimmy Carter) and his band of political technicians couldn't alter the record of his performance, so they tried to alter the public perception of where the blame should be placed. "It was," one of the participants in those meetings said later, "all blue smoke and mirrors. What was needed was fundamental change."

This is exactly what Team Obama is offering up right now--blue smoke and mirrors. President Obama lost public confidence in the first two years of his tenure, and Americans responded by filling Congress with dozens of new Republicans, ending the (short) era of liberal governance. Obama does not have the disposition to meet Republicans halfway, and, at any rate, his political advisors seem to have convinced him that demagoguing the GOP is the better approach. So, the president is emphasizing political theater, endeavoring to create the impression that the economy is in better shape than it is (or at least that he is not to blame), that he has a realistic plan to handle the deficit, and that he is in strong shape for reelection.

It will do no good. The president can visit as many green companies as he likes. His team can put out as many strategy videos as it likes. It can organize its ground game in Virginia all day and all night. None of this is going to change the fundamentals of this upcoming election, which are:

1. The economy is substantially weaker for Obama than for other previous presidents who won reelection.

2. The deficit is now substantially higher than before.

3. His major domestic reform--Obamacare--is substantially more unpopular.

4. The American people are substantially more pessimistic.

That's the state of the nation at this point. Nothing the Obama campaign can do at this point will affect any of these fundamentals--the hope is that its efforts will alter the public's perceptions of these fundamentals, but it won't. If we've learned anything in the last 50 years of the modern campaign, it's that the billion dollar efforts of campaign technocrats, who now dominate our politics, cannot convince people that the sun rises in the west. 

So, when we peel back the spin, the boasting, and the partisan hyperbole, we get the following: The president is going to need real improvement on at least one of those four items, or he is going to lose next year, and the race will be over before midnight on the East Coast. And there won't be a single thing David Axelrod, Jim Messina, or David Plouffe can do to stop it.

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