It seemed like big news at first blush.
That’s what The New York Times headline writers thought they heard, leading them to splash “Obama to call for Broad Plan to Reduce Debt” across Monday’s front page, while MSNBC’s website proclaimed “Obama to lay out spending plan" and CBS News' site said “Obama to Outline Deficit Plan.”
For if you parse Mr. Plouffe’s comment, it sounds like Mr. Obama will spell out deficit-cutting targets, not a plan. By saying the president will deal with what Mr. Plouffe called “the scale of debt reduction,” it appears Mr. Obama’s speech will be heavy on goals and light on proposals.
If so, it will be another missed opportunity, one with grave consequences for the nation’s prosperity. For Mr. Obama will again have set a lofty goal (like doubling U.S. exports or cutting dependence on foreign oil) without spelling out how to achieve it.
The nation saw Mr. Obama’s lack of leadership in his State of the Union address, where he glossed over the government’s grave financial situation with a few platitudes, a bow to the efforts of his own deficit reduction commission, and an air kiss to the Congress to accompany his best wishes in it finding an answer.
If Mr. Obama offers only goals and not plans Wednesday, his presidency may have entered the final phase of shedding any pretence of seriousness. It will be evidence that Mr. Plouffe and other West Wing politicos have decided to stall on any real action to reduce the deficit until after the 2012 election.
Of course, Mr. Plouffe did make clear the president will call for repeal of the Bush tax cuts "for the wealthy."
Though Mr. Obama heralded the agreement last December to continue all the Bush tax cuts for the next two years, the poll-obsessed campaign operatives in the White House think class warfare and blaming the nation’s ills on greedy rich people will win Mr. Obama reelection.
An early March poll by Resurgent Republic found 38% of Americans agree “we need more tax revenue as well as spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit” while 54% believed the “federal deficit is a result of too much spending in Washington” and if “the Congress raises taxes, the tax increases will only end up going” for more spending, not deficit reduction. A Pew Research Center poll mid-March found 61% favored “lowering domestic spending…to reduce the budget deficit” while 30% opposed it. On the other hand, only 30% favored “raising taxes…to reduce the budget deficit” while 67% opposing tax increases.
Mr. Plouffe and his cohort of campaigners may believe -- as Al Gore, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale before them – that class warfare is a winning message in a bid for the White House. But that’s unlikely in the coming campaign. The American people believe the government has a spending problem, not a revenue one. And voters believe there should be a limit to what government takes from anyone or any business in taxes, because if government can take it from some, it can take if from everyone.
If there are details Wednesday, then Mr. Obama is serious. If he merely offers goals, it will be yet another political speech by a president who loves campaigning but not leading or governing.
Karl Rove is a Fox News political analyst and a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush. He is the author of "Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight" (Threshold Editions, 2010) and helped organize the political action committee American Crossroads.