On Economy, “Bumps in the Road” now a “Crisis”
“Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy… America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.”
You could tell where the president’s head is these days when he found a way to talk about green energy and domestic stimulus programs in a speech on the Afghan war.
While the White House team insists that the president didn’t consider public opinion when making his decision on the war, the strategy seems to be one designed to mute critics on the left and right and muddle through until November 2012. Obama’s Afghan strategy is a compromise plan that could survive almost any focus group.
Provided there is no catastrophe in Central Asia, Afghanistan is unlikely to be much of an issue for the upcoming election. But the state of the economy surely is. And having struck out with a “stay the course” attitude on bad economic news, the administration is shifting to a more engaged message.
What had been “sustainable growth” is now “a crisis.”
While official Washington was poring over the long-known details of Obama’s prospective, partial Afghan drawdown, the administration continued to shift its message on the economy.
The last several weeks have seen a concatenation of bad economic news: Unemployment up, home prices down, GDP growth slowing, inflation rising, manufacturing dipping and public confidence plunging.
The administration’s response has been to stay the course, talking about “bumps in the road” and lamenting the speed of the recovery but not the trajectory of the economy. But they now know that’s not going to feed the bulldog.
When the president got caught on camera laughing about the ineffectiveness of his 2009 stimulus spending program, Republicans attacked. The message to America from Congress and from the Republican 2012 field: You are miserable and this guy doesn’t care.
Obama is now in the process of replacing his old economic team, the one that told him to stimulate, bail-out, nationalize and then sit back and wait for the good news to come rolling in.
The transition began with a new chief of staff, a former Democratic door opener in the banking industry, William Daley, and continues as Obama gears up for an election-year push intended to show that he is pro jobs and pro-business.
The Obama team has been saying for more than a year that the president’s policies had rescued the nation from a crisis (including during the now infamous “Recovery Summer”), but on Wednesday at a forum on jobs and the economy, Daley nonchalantly declared that the current economic situation was a crisis.
“We are in a crisis, we are trying to get some people to understand that this is a real crisis, and the ways in which things happen in this town have got to be jump-started based upon the difficulty we're in,” Daley said.
Daley’s predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, famously said to “never waste a crisis.”
Obama followed Emanuel’s advice and used the disruptions from the Panic of 2008 to pass a host of legislation, including an unpopular health care law and bulky bank regulations that weren’t directly aimed at recovery and job creation. Daley’s task is to salvage the reputation that the crisis exploitation strategy helped Obama to earn.
The president has long known what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke confirmed Wednesday: the expected rate of growth for next year is weak and getting weaker. Obama is looking at running for reelection with a base unemployment rate of more than 8 percent and only slightly better than stagnant GDP growth.
Obama experienced a political fairy tale in 2008, but 2012 is shaping up as an incumbent’s horror story. Obama and Daley are looking to rewrite the ending.
In Afghan Speech, Obama Looks to Reap Political Rewards, Delay Consequences
“Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad. We must chart a more centered course.”
-- President Obama comparing his Afghan policy to those of two straw men.
President Obama is doing with his Afghanistan drawdown something similar to what he did with his health care law: frontloading political benefits and delaying unpleasant details until after the 2012 elections.
In his speech Tuesday, Obama called for the continuation of his current Afghan strategy – a massive nation-building surge – until next fall. But still managed to speak as if the work was already done and the troops were coming home.
This is the third iteration of Obama’s Afghan strategy. Obama implemented two surges in 2009, coupling them with a massive nation-building effort, as Obama called it in his Dec. 1, 2009 speech at West Point: “a civilian surge that reinforces positive action.” In the same speech, Obama promised to start unwinding the second surge in July 2011.
With little support inside his own party for the idea, Obama has leaned heavily on Republicans in Congress to continue funding the conflict. While the GOP doesn’t generally like the “civilian surge” stuff and loathes the idea of putting a military operation on a timeline, the party’s members have been the core of support for Obama’s Wilsonian efforts in Central Asia.
As much as Republicans grumbled, Obama has avoided the accusation that many thought would befall the man who ran as an anti-war candidate, that of timorousness. Indeed, Obama has expanded U.S. military commitments to five nations (Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan). Obama, who got a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush, has engaged in more of what today’s New York Times sneered at as Bush’s “military adventurism” than his predecessor.
Obama never had a victory strategy for Afghanistan but at least insulated himself from easy claims that he was a Carter-like weenie. Don’t like the missile deal with Russia? But we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Think we’re letting China take liberties? But we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Think the Iranians are about to go nuclear? But we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Think we’re being too blithe about the Islamists who keep toppling friendly governments in the Middle East? But… You get the idea.
But, as Obama focuses on fundraising and recruiting an army of volunteers in a bid to replace the enthusiasm he engendered with his 2008 candidacy, the president needs very much to get his base back on board. And there’s nothing that interferes with liberal’s narrative of Obama as a Solomonic arbiter than his continuation and expansion of the Bush Doctrine.
Today, Obama will visit the 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum, to thank the troops who have borne the greatest burden of the Afghan war, but come nightfall he’ll be down in Manhattan for his 31st and 32nd fundraisers of his presidency (10 times the number Bush had held by this point).
The fundraisers will include one arranged by the campaign for members of New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and featuring famous gay and lesbian people, like the actor who formerly played Doogie Howser, M.D. and a former cast member of “Sex in the City.” Chat show host Whoopi Goldberg hosts the other.
This is the base of the base for a liberal Democratic president – the equivalent of a Republican traveling to Houston for a Federalist Society meeting followed by a prayer vigil – and Obama will be able to say that he has begun to end the war they hate.
Some will point out that even after the prospective drawdown, Obama still plans to leave 70,000 troops, twice the number as Bush, in Afghanistan, but on the whole, the president can expect more praise for his decision and a celebration of his “evolving” position on gay marriage.
Obama is rejecting pleas from his generals to not have even a symbolic drawdown just now, but Republicans in Congress are resigned to supporting his policy on the grounds that it is as good as they will get. Obama is also leaving a massive army in the field despite liberal demands that he bring the troops home, but his base is mostly quiescent.
If everything goes (further) to hell in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it would be a political disaster for Obama. But if even the crummy status quo in the region can be maintained for the next 18 months, Obama may pay little political price for his Afghan maneuvers.
Congressional Leaders Scramble to Save Libya War for Obama
“Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.”
-- President Obama holding up the stalemated Libyan civil war as a model for future U.S. military action.
After three months of stalemated warfare that has taken the NATO alliance to the breaking point and pushed the White House and Congress to the brink of a constitutional crisis, it seemed strange to many on Capitol Hill that President Obama would lift up the Libyan civil war as the model for future American conflicts.
Obama was looking to juxtapose his approach to international interventions to that of his predecessor, who Democrats have long depicted as a cowboy who acted unilaterally. But it may have had the opposite effect.
“He is bragging about the U.N. support but still won’t bother to make his case to Congress,” said an aide to one Republican House member who supports authorizing the war effort. “That’s just insulting.”
In a bid to prevent a bipartisan majority in Congress from yanking funding from Obama’s effort to install a coalition of eastern tribesmen and Islamists as the new government of Libya, House leaders are shuffling legislation and moving around votes.
What Republicans in Congress need to save the president is an admission from the White House that the legislative branch has some say in the prosecution of the war. The president holds that the U.S. is not involved in hostilities because the forces of the western tribes loyal to Col. Muammar al Qaddafi are not firing back at the Americans on bombing raids over the country.
But even the leader of America’s closest ally, British Prime Minister David Cameron, emphatically says that NATO is involved in a “war” so the White House position in Congress is untenable as long as the bombing continues.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I think that people obviously have a correct sense of where the economy is and where it's headed. There is one other number in the poll where they found that 66 percent of Americans think we're on the wrong track. The wrong track, right track number has been a terrific indicator for reelection. At 66 percent, Obama loses.”
***Today on “Power Play w/ Chris Stirewalt”: Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. And the Juan Williams. Tune in at 11:30 am Eastern at http://live.foxnews.com/ ***
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.