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Morning Jay: Mondale 2012!

6:00 AM, Sep 21, 2011 • By JAY COST
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The strategy. Obama wins by uniting an energized Democratic base with the swing vote. Right now, the swing vote is not disposed to him, and this deficit plan will not help. However, it will help with the base, which has been grumbling of late. There’s no question that the Democratic base will vote for Obama over the GOP (and as I’ve argued before the notion of a serious primary challenge is not tenable), the issue is that he needs its active engagement. He needs labor money, environmental money, feminist money, extraordinary African American turnout, and so on. It’s quite possible that Obama figures that this package (plus some good old fashioned demagoguery of the eventual GOP nominee) will energize the base, and the swing vote will come back if he can get lucky with some economic growth next year.

The delusion. As I mentioned last week, Obama is a fellow with a very high opinion of himself. So, if his advisors have convinced him that hitting these populist, Mondale-esque themes is basically a way to “let Obama be Obama,” then it’s no shock that he’s pursuing this path. After all, Obama loves being Obama. 

Beyond that, the left has long subscribed to the theory that voters are abstractly conservative but programmatically liberal. That is, ask them whether spending should be increased or decreased in general, and they’ll say decreased. But ask them about specific programs, and they’ll call for increases.

There is no doubt that polling often exhibits this dichotmy (see this recent result from Gallup, for example), but the problem is that such policy questions have had all the practicalities of politics shorn from them. On paper, a plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to reduce the deficit is popular – but in practice people understand that politicians will also raise taxes on small businesses, use budget gimmicks to “reduce” the deficit, and spend the surplus revenue on their pet programs. So while the Democratic tax-hiking plan may be “popular,” the GOP is trusted more on taxes by voters

The health care bill suffered from something like this. People generally supported individual items as pollsters described them, but hated the overall bill. Why? Because the process by which it was passed simply reinforced their already negative opinions about the government’s efficacy. So when push came to shove, they simply didn’t believe that Obamacare would do all the wonderful things the president promised.

Liberal strategists who work for the president probably don’t fully appreciate this, and are giving him the bad advice to push earnestly for tax and spending increases. If they knew their history a little better, they’d know how well that idea worked for Mondale back in 1984.

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