Another presidential “pivot.” Having “pivoted” from Europe to Asia, Barack Obama’s White House has announced another pivot. This one, according to Politico, “to re-focus his oft-meandering message back on the economy.” It seems that voters are less interested in Obama’s drive for gun control (he couldn’t rally many in his own party to that cause), or his continued effort to toss billions at renewable energy just when the country is set to become a net exporter of fossil fuels than in seeing the unemployment rate come down. “It’s the economy, stupid,” the campaign rule that kept Bill Clinton focused on what matters to voters, is Obama’s new mantra as he schedules a campaign-style tour to deliver perhaps half-dozen speeches to add to the one he delivered last week in which he said not very much – that’s the view of both supporters and opponents – in a talk that took over an hour, longer than his State of the Union message.
“Repackaged economic proposals that the President has offered for years” is how the Obama-friendly New York Times characterizes the description provided by Obama aides. An effort to get “Washington” to concentrate on things that matter to real people is how the president puts it, ignoring the fact that if he is pivoting to economics he must be pivoting from something else.
Why bother to take to the hustings to sell new wine (whine?) in old bottles? For three reasons. The first is that the president’s approval rating has slipped from 53 percent to 45 percent since the beginning of the year, the lowest level since late 2011. At this time in his second term, Bill Clinton was scoring 58 percent. Second, he is beset with scandals—“phony scandals,” as he characterizes them in his latest campaign swing. Just how “phony” is not clear; indeed, in at least two instances the president denounced the scandals before denying they were any such:
· The Internal Revenue Service has denied conservative groups the tax exempt status that it grants liberal organizations, a discrimination Obama initially called “outrageous.”
· The Justice Department tapped into reporters’ e-mails and labeled a Fox reporter a criminal and a flight risk, prompting the president and the most political attorney general in recent years to backtrack and propose legislation to prevent a recurrence of that attack on press freedom.
· It is now clear that the terrorist assault on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi and the slaughter of our ambassador and staff had nothing to do with an inflammatory video, as the president and his team, eager to claim that the war on terror was over, claimed.
Phony or not, these scandals are not what the administration wants to see dominating the news—well, not “dominating” but at least piercing the wall of silence the media erects between any bad news for the president and the public. Better to see stories about the president focusing on such plans as he might have to improve the lot of the middle class, a repeat of a theme that featured in his last two campaigns.
The third reason for Obama’s renewed interest in matters economic is that a new showdown with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is looming. Sometime in the next few months America will hit the ceiling on its ability to borrow. Republicans are saying they will only raise the ceiling if Democrats agree to an equal cut in spending. For good measure many Republicans add that any spending they authorize for the fiscal year beginning October 1 will not include funds for the implementation of Obamacare, the president’s signature reform of the American economy, his legacy as he sees it.
The president says none of this negotiable, leaving Republicans to balance two conflicting pressures. One is from voters who will punish them if they refuse to raise the debt ceiling and appropriate funds that are needed to prevent a government shut-down. Another is from voters who heartily disapprove of the massive government intervention that Obamacare mandates. Some 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the law, with 40 percent favoring outright repeal. When the law was passed in 2010, 74 percent of moderate and conservative members of the president’s party thought it a good thing; that number has shrunk to 46 percent in the latest polls. Many Republican congressmen believe that these voters, 65 percent of whom say America is on the “wrong track,” will support then in the 2014 elections if they hold to their plan to defund Obamacare.