Obama Team Adopts McCain's Optimism on Economy


"Out of touch."

"Incapable of understanding" the economic crisis. 

That's how Barack Obama and his presidential campaign team described John McCain last year when the Republican candidate famously said "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." 

But now President Obama and his advisers are adopting similar rhetoric as they try to build public confidence in an economic turnaround. 

"Of course the fundamentals are sound," Obama economic adviser Christina Romer said Sunday.  

The administration is now keeping the focus on "all the fundamentally sound aspects of our economy," Obama said Friday. 

Romer explained on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the country is in a temporary "mess," but that the president is focusing on fixing up those fundamentals, which she defined as "the American workers." 

That's the same line McCain used last September -- before the worst of the economic crisis emerged -- to explain his confidence. 

The rhetorical shift is just the latest in which Obama has shown strains of the views and policies of the man he defeated in November, even though in some cases he once criticized those views. 

"Senator McCain, what economy are you talking about?" Obama asked in Colorado last September after McCain expressed his economic optimism. 

So what's changed? Obama has pushed through a $787 billion economic stimulus plan and announced new help for homeowners and the financial system -- but the Dow is down about 35 percent since mid-September. 

"We're not in an election, so, of course, Democrats can flip-flop," Republican strategist Andrea Tantaros said. 

In the case of the economy, analysts note that Obama is trying hard to tamp down the gloom-and-doom rhetoric he used in the weeks following Inauguration Day. 

But Obama also seemed to weave in some of McCain's wait-and-see approach to winding down the Iraq war when he announced his troop withdrawal plan last month. 

Under the plan, Obama would not only retain the flexibility to slow down or reverse the withdrawals if conditions deteriorate, but he also will keep up to 50,000 troops as a residual force in Iraq after the deadline of August 2010. Obama extended his 16-month withdrawal timetable to a 19-month timetable as well. 

The administration says combat brigades will be gone by that time and the forces that remain will be in an "advisory and assistance" capacity. The White House says the remaining troops will still conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions and protect the civilian and military efforts in the country. 

Though some congressional Democrats were surprised by the size of the residual force, McCain praised Obama's withdrawal plan last month. He even told The Huffington Post that he would have implemented a very similar plan. 

"I'm sure, because that's what our military and civilian leadership has recommended," McCain said. 

Last year, Obama mocked McCain for pushing tax cuts for corporations, accusing him of cozying up to Wall Street and leaving out average taxpayers. 

But in remarks last week at a business roundtable, Obama said his interest "over time" is in "potentially lowering corporate rates" in exchange for closing loopholes in the tax system. 

"That's a very appealing conversation to me, and I'd like to pursue it," Obama said, though he acknowledged his budget proposal, which raises taxes on the wealthy, does not reflect that position. 

Obama also announced an earmark reform package last week that, in theory, was the kind of thing McCain talked about on the campaign trail last year. However, as Obama announced the package on the same day he signed a $410 billion spending bill filled with thousands of earmarks, McCain charged that Obama was offering empty words. 

"The president's rhetoric is impressive, but his statement affirms we will continue to do business as usual in Washington regarding earmarks in appropriations legislation," he said in a written statement. 

The New York Times also reported Sunday that the administration is receptive to the idea of taxing employee health benefits. 

This is the same kind of policy Obama slammed McCain for during the presidential campaign. In October, Obama called McCain's proposal "radical" and "out of touch." 

Obama's top advisers disavowed the idea on the Sunday morning talks shows, claiming the article was "overstated," the plan is not in the president's budget proposal and he does not support it. 

But they would not take the idea off the table. 

"He is open to all ideas," Austan Goolsbee, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on "FOX News Sunday." 

Romer would not rule out the option either, though she deflected charges that the president was coming in line with McCain on the matter of the economy being "sound." She said such a reading would be "misinterpreting the president." 

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that there's a "definitional difference between sound and strong," and that the president is still trying to "strengthen" the sound aspects of the economy. 

Democratic strategist Bob Beckel suggested those efforts put the economy in a better position for improvement than it was during the late stages of the presidential campaign. 

"Every one of these things that he has proposed ... all of that has to do with getting the economy stronger and getting more jobs," Beckel said. "Over the last five days, the market has been up."