Published October 11, 2011
Mixed Messages Muddle Obama Economy Pitch; Huntsman’s Last Stand
Obama Meets With Corporate Council as His Base Denounces Corporate Profits
“Protestors are assembling in New York and around the country to let billionaires, big oil and big bankers know that we’re not going to let the richest 1% force draconian economic policies and massive cuts to crucial programs on Main Street Americans.”
-- Online Petition from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seeking 100,000 supporters for the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
"He's meeting with all these people who do nothing but cut jobs and ship jobs overseas and (who) don't play fairly.”
-- Kyndall Mason, spokeswoman for One Pittsburgh, a coalition of labor and community activists demonstrating ahead of President Obama’s visit to the city with to meet with corporate supporters, talking to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Democrats are looking to absorb and redirect the energy of the month-old Occupy Wall Street protests, but the effort is proving difficult as deeper fault lines emerge on the left.
The Obama Democrats would like to see protesters and activists pressuring Republicans over the president’s proposed stimulus package, a collection of spending and tax proposals designed to be politically anodyne. That’s what Democratic allies like the government workers’ union SEIU are talking about when they hit the streets: A demonstration of support for the president’s plan and a boost in Obama’s effort to run for re-election against Republican intransigence.
For this to work, Obama’s proposals must be branded as so utterly inoffensive that only a unpatriotic politician could oppose them out of a desire to hurt Obama as the country suffers.
That’s why you see Senate Democrats agonizing over the third Obama stimulus today. The measure won’t pass either house of Congress as written, and wasn’t designed to. But it would strain the president’s credibility even with credulous members of the press corps if the overwhelming number of Senate Democrats aren’t on board – say 48 of 53.
The establishment press would give Obama a pass if red state conservatives from his own party like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska balk at Stimulus III, but if others were to vote against the measure, say vulnerable swing staters like Claire McCaskill or red state liberals like Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, it would deeply undercut Obama’s Truman play for this phase of his re-election effort.
Having rewritten the rules of the Senate to prevent a vote on the package in a bid to save face for Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may now be looking for a way to get at least some parts of the legislation passed in order to give Obama a partial victory in blaming House Republicans for the dire state of the American economy.
Under this scenario, rather than Obama’s initial plan of being able to blame the Republican House and a Republican filibuster in the Senate for thwarting his $450 billion stimulus and $2 trillion suite of tax increases on top earners, Democrats would actually try to get the least controversial parts through the Senate for a small-bore pressure play on the House.
Rather than his whole plan, Obama would be left to push for pieces like an extension and expansion of the reductions to the Social Security payroll tax or the extension of already-extended long-term unemployment benefits.
Not with a bang, but with a whimper...
With Americans increasingly disapproving of Obama’s handling of the economy, the president may have lacked the credibility with a mainstream audience to make this push, leaving aside the question of continually poor relations between the White House and the president’s former colleagues in the Senate.
Despite the growing chance of his own party whittling down his package, the president is still on the campaign trail in swing states casting himself as the reasonable man held hostage by unreasonable adversaries. Obama has even increased his demands to Republicans who oppose the package, calling for not only an explanation but a specific counterproposal.
While the president is widely disapproved of in the business world, Obama will meet today in Pittsburgh with a clutch of supportive CEOs like GE’s Jeffrey Immelt and American Express’ Ken Chenault.
As the L.A. Times points out, while the CEOs may be supportive of the president, the Pittsburgh meeting will include many leaders who have, to use the parlance of our times “put profits ahead of people” and laid off American workers in favor of cheaper foreign workers or simply more robust quarterly profits.
So, while Obama gathers together his corporate backers as evidence that his agenda is corporate approved, the core of the “Occupy” movement is getting ready to march on the homes of corporate captains as a show of their disgust with the system.
While Democrats may differentiate between acceptable rich dudes like Immelt or Obama booster Warren Buffett and foes like the Koch brothers, this would be a tough differentiation for even the most politically gifted president to make, let alone Obama.
While the street protesters may hate Koch Industries or News Corp. more than the profiteers who will join Obama at the table today, it’s not like they’re celebrating Ecomagination at Zuccotti Park. In fact, it is the loathing of how corporate cats like Immelt use lobbying and government policy to profit that helped spur the initial movement Democrats are now seeking to direct to their own purposes.
Remember, the initial aim of the Tea Party movement Democrats envy and despise, has been to clean house within the GOP. Incumbent Democrats will have a hard time embracing the idea of a refiner’s fire burning away the centrist dross inside the party.
There may be broad support on the left for the president’s package, particularly the subsidies to keep state and local government employee rolls at stimulus levels, but it will be hard to generate the kind of base enthusiasm Obama wants next year if his team continues to send a mixed message: Eat the rich, except for the Democrats.
Big Moment for Huntsman in New Hampshire Debate
"Well, you can light your hair on fire I guess. But I'm not gonna light my hair on fire. I don't think you have to be crazy to be in the Republican Party.”
-- Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman talking to reporters about what it will take for him to gain notice at tonight’s Washington Post/Bloomberg News.
Tonight’s Republican presidential debate will be completely different than the ones before it. Rather than a national debate, this will be crucially important for New Hampshire.
The previous debates have seen huge viewership, peaking with the 6.1 million who watched the Sept. 22 debate on FOX News (not to mention the 6.3 million who watched online thanks in large part to co-sponsors Google). But this event will be shown on Bloomberg TV, a niche cable channel that focuses on high-end business news and offers politics from the center left via folks like Al Hunt and Charlie Rose.
There’s also the format. Rose will be the lead moderator and will be joined by Bloomberg reporter Julianna Goldman and Post reporter Karen Tumulty. The setting will be around a very large round table and the topic will be economic and fiscal policy.
This is not a setting where someone can turn the discussion inside the national GOP. Those who say that the stakes are huge for Rick Perry are right in the sense that a major gaffe or controversy that can be clipped and replayed the next day could be disqualifying, but there is little upside for Perry in an event like this. Perry needs to show the inside crowd that he’s improving in debates, but without a mainstream audience, Perry has to focus mostly on not losing.
The audience will be mainstream in one place though: New Hampshire. The debate will air on WBIN of Derry, N.H. and you can bet that the first-in-the-nation primary state will be watching.
While Herman Cain’s pith and punch plays well in a fast-paced debate, this event should be a policy wonks delight. That may not matter in the national sense, but New Hampshire voters like to get down in the weeds on policy.
And that brings us to Jon Huntsman. Huntsman is a darling of moderate wonks but also seemingly the only real threat to Romney in New Hampshire, where the former Massachusetts governor keeps a vacation home. Huntsman’s fading bid is now focused almost entirely on blocking Romney in the more moderate Granite State.
While Perry could knock himself out – certainly Romney will be looking to keep the focus on his fight with the Texas governor – it’s Huntsman who could do the most to improve his fortunes. Huntsman will have to get Romney off of Perry and draw out their differences on small points. While they are both more moderate than the rest of the field and even share the same Mormon faith, Huntsman has to show New Hampshire voters that he is different and better than Romney. His best bet is the same thing that the rest of the GOP targets Romney for -- being inconstant – but come at it from the left instead of the right.
Conversely, if Huntsman can’t stand out against Romney in this most advantageous environment in this most important state, it will probably be time to pack up his dirt bike and go home.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“So when you took away Mubarak and he's sitting in the cage in a trial and he was the protector of the Christians, you've gotten a regime that succeeded him that's not exactly content on containing the passions of the mob. You've had a lot of churches destroyed, attacks on Copts. You also had the attack on the Israeli embassy, about the only outlet for anti-Semitism, so that the Jewish community long ago has abandoned Egypt. This is what's to come.”