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Somewhere Between Boom and Bust Lies Obama

June 24th, 2011 - 7:38 am

Good piece on Politico from Carrie Budoff Brown. Apparently, the Administration is having trouble settling on an economic message. First, ownership:

A growing number of Democratic strategists — including Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod — said the party needs to let go of George W. Bush and the past once and for all. Democrats now “own” the economy, says party chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

We’ll see about that — but I haven’t noticed any lessening of the “this mess we inherited” stuff. So if the past is out, what should the President say about the future? That’s where things get trickier:

With the past out of bounds, the present gloomy and the White House’s “winning the future” mantra judged by some as a bit too distant, Obama risks running out of time — and tenses — to craft a strategy that will woo back disaffected voters. It all adds up to a messaging minefield for Obama as it becomes increasingly likely that he could be the first president in more than six decades to seek reelection with an unemployment rate above 8 percent.

“My sense is they might be recalibrating” on the president’s economic pitch, said Democratic strategist James Carville, who has criticized the White House’s messaging operation. “A lot of people are just trying to win tomorrow.”

Clinton/Gore ran in ’96 on “building a bridge to the 21st Century.” And since the next century was only four or five years away, depending on how you reckon, people got the meaning without any effort. But “winning the future” sounds a lot like “prosperity is just around the corner,” when we’re dealing with chronic underemployment and record numbers on food stamps.

Which leads us to the crux of the problem:

The biggest challenge for Obama might be this: There’s a very good chance he’ll never be able to state with certainty that the economy has truly recovered before voters go to the polls in 2012. If he can’t declare victory — only patchwork progress — that’s a lot less inspiring rallying cry in an election almost sure to turn on pocketbook issues.

“Poised for progress” ain’t exactly “Yes! We! Can!” It’s damn near an admission of failure. You half expect President Obama’s next attempt at restructuring his message to include a cardigan sweater and a stern insistence that we turn down our thermostats. Which is why the next bit positively drips with irony:

The White House would not comment on the record for this story.

Hey, if you can’t say anything nice…

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