Monday, Jun 10, 2024

Obama Now Emulating Truman’s Re-election Strategy

After almost three years of missed opportunities to fulfill his campaign promises when he ran for president in 2008, President Obama is now seeking to portray himself as the underdog champion of the middle class. Instead of responding to the growing emergency created by his failed economic policies with reasonable proposals that could garner bi-partisan support, he is seeking to divert the blame. His “job creation proposal” introduced with much fanfare last month was a grab bag collection of the same old big government spending programs, to be funded by previously rejected proposals to increase the tax burden on the wealthy. Confirming the original political analysis of the proposal, Obama has now announced plans to campaign for re-election against the GOP's refusal to pass the plan, which was purposely designed by him to be unacceptable to them. Obama has manipulated the situation to allow him to emulate the feisty political strategy adopted by Harry Truman when he won an upset re-election victory in 1948 by campaigning against a “do-nothing” Republican Congress.

Truman’s approval rating was at 36 percent in April of that year and he began his second term in 1949 at 69 percent, according to the Gallup poll. But when Truman won re-election, the year-long unemployment rate averaged just 3.8 percent.


“With Harry Truman, for all of his faults and all of his shortcomings, voters in 1948 knew exactly who he was and what he was,” said Democrat Pollster Peter Hart. “Given all the vagaries of that year, they came back around to him.” Obama’s problem is that he has changed his political approach so often that even his liberal supporters are no longer sure where he really stands.


Certainly, the raw US economic statistics project trouble for his effort to win a second term next year. Since World War II, no US president has won re-election with a jobless rate above 6 percent, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, who faced 7.2 percent unemployment on Election Day in 1984. By the Obama administration’s own forecast, which agree with those by private economists, the jobless rate is likely to stand at more than 8 percent when voters go to the polls to vote for or against giving him a second term next year.




Explaining his new strategy, Obama told a White news conference, “If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town.”


Obama warned Republicans who oppose his $447 billion jobs measure that they will have to explain their opposition “to me, and more importantly, to their constituencies.”


The president sought to divert the political responsibility for his cynical actions by accusing the Republicans of deliberately obstructing his reasonable job creation proposals. “It’s fair to say that I have gone out of my way in every instance, sometimes at my own political peril and to the frustration of Democrats, to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward,” Obama said. “Each time, what we’ve seen is games-playing, a preference to try to score political points rather than actually get something done.”


As Obama was conducting his news conference, House Speaker John Boehner, accused him of using his jobs plan as a campaign vehicle, telling an audience in Washington that “nothing has disappointed me more than what has happened in the last five weeks.”


“To watch the president of the United States give up on governing, give up on leading and just spend time campaigning. We’re legislating. He’s campaigning. It’s very disappointing.”




Meanwhile, the latest polls show that the American people’s opinion of Obama’s leadership continues to deteriorate. Four in 10 Americans “strongly” disapprove of the way Obama has managed the presidency, and only 58 percent of Democrats now believe Obama will be re-elected next year.


Among independents, whose support was crucial to Obama’s victory in 2008, 54% of those asked in an October poll said they would prefer someone new in the White House, while only 36% said that he deserves re-election. In grading his performance handling the economy, 33% of independents give him an “F’ while only 2% think he deserves an “A.”


Almost 8 in 10 Americans say the country is on the wrong track, and just 9 percent of people say they are confident that the nation won’t slide back into a double dip recession.


Some of the greatest damage to Obama’s reputation for leadership was self-inflicted.


For instance, when the White House announced that the president intended to unveil his jobs plan to a joint session of Congress on the same night as a nationally televised Republican presidential candidate debate, it made Obama look petty and politically driven. In the end, when Boehner rightfully rejected the proposed date of the joint session of Congress, the White House was forced to postpone Obama’s address until the next day.


By agreeing to be interviewed, Obama gave White House credibility to journalist Ron Suskind whose book depicted Obama as an ineffective leader unprepared to deal with the economic crisis. It also quoted former Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers as saying, “There’s no adult in charge,” in the Obama White House.


Suskind reports that time and again, imaginative ideas to solve the country’s economic problems would be proposed in the White House only to be shot down by one staffer or another, turning the motto of the Obama administration from “Yes We Can” into “No We Can’t.”


The Obama administration has not lacked for ideas, only in the consistency and determination to see these ideas turned into realities.




According to Steven Pearlstein, the economics writer for the Washington Post, the members of the Obama administration “are keenly aware that there’s a nasty political war going on out there and that they’re losing. What I suspect they don’t fully understand is that one reason they’re losing it is that people aren’t sure which side they’re on. And the way to let people know which side you’re on is to send clear signals through what you say and what you do.”


There are more disturbing reports coming out of several different sources in Washington and New York City which paint a picture of a president who has grown more isolated in his own White House. He has cut himself off from close contact with all but a few trusted longtime friends and personal advisers, such as Valerie Jarrett and his chief political strategist, David Axelrod. Reportedly, senior cabinet officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have complained that Obama has shut them out of important decisions.




Obama has become noticeably more bitter as his job approval numbers have fallen. His recent public policy remarks have become darker, more combative and pessimistic, prompting comparisons by some commentators to the low points in the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.


The response of those around Obama has been to spend less time defending the president and his policies. and more time trying to blame all the nation’s troubles on any convenient scapegoat, beginning with congressional Republicans, the legacy of President George W. Bush, and of course, those greedy “millionaires and billionaires” whom Obama is earnestly trying to tax back into poverty.


All this has done little to deflect the intense voter distrust and dissatisfaction with Obama, whose political consequences are as deadly to his party as to his re-election prospects. Democrats now stand in serious jeopardy of losing control of the Senate as well as the White House in next year’s election.




“We have one of the largest proportions of people saying the country is going in the wrong direction and that’s usually a signal that people throw incumbents out,” said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard. “A jobs program is not a job. There is a great deal of cynicism.”


Confidence has eroded at the state level, too. In Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida recent polls found that a majority of those surveyed said Obama doesn’t deserve re-election.


Open criticism about Obama’s leadership is now coming from the president’s base. “We’re supportive of the president, but we’re getting tired,” Congresswoman Maxine Waters, one of the most radical left wing members of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We don’t know what the strategy is.”


These statistics have also led to growing confidence among Republican that they can defeat Obama for re-election next year, which has made the stakes in the race for the GOP nomination much higher.


“If we don’t beat him, who are we going to beat?” asked Senator Lindsey Graham. “I can’t imagine this country continuing the Obama presidency four more years given the evidence that his policies are failing the country.”




Obama admitted that, “there is no doubt the economy is weaker now than it was at the beginning of the year,” but he attributed the slowdown to Europe’s fiscal turmoil, Japan’s tsunami and the higher oil prices — everything except the failure of his own economic policies. But time and again he directed the blame at his primary political adversaries, the Republicans.


The problem with this argument is that Obama’s strategy of playing the jobs issue for his political benefit is painfully obvious, and has been condemned even by some of his supporters. The political wisdom of this strategy is also questionable. Many independent voters who gave Obama his victory in 2008 based upon his promise to work as president to reunite the country, are likely to see it as a further betrayal of that promise.


Liberals cheer the president’s more belligerent attitude towards conservative Republicans. But independent voters already frustrated by the political gridlock in Washington and Obama’s failure to deliver on his promises to address the country’s unemployment problem, will likely become even more angry at Obama’s latest desperate effort to help secure his re-election, at the further expense of the health of the US economy.




Ever since he proposed the jobs plan early last month, he has made it the centerpiece of a series of campaign speeches across the country, most of them in crucial swing states in next year’s presidential election, including his native Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia.


Obama has also been giving interviews to regional reporters from Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, and promoted his jobs bill in national television interviews in an effort to regain control of the political narrative about his administration, and to counter the widespread impression that it has been a total economic failure.


Democrats say that Obama’s more openly confrontational approach to congressional Republicans is a reaction to the fall in his approval ratings following this summer’s budget deficit deal. He is now embracing the role of underdog in the 2012 presidential campaign.


He has also stopped trying to minimize the extent of the country’s economic problems. In a recent broadcast interview, he actually admitted that Americans aren’t “better off than they were four years ago. They’re not better off than they were before Lehman collapsed, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we’re going through.”


But without the ability to promise voters that he will be able to deliver a better economy soon, some suggest that this approach is only raising more questions in the minds of America’s about his ability to lead the country. They suggest that a president should try to give the people more confidence that things can and will improve, as President Ronald Reagan did in his highly successful 1984 “Morning in America” re-election campaign.




Obama is now seeking to portray himself as a populist advocate rather than his former political persona, as the only mature and responsible politician left in Washington with the country’s best interests at heart.


Senator Dick Durbin, the number two man in the Senate Democrat leadership, says that Obama’s more aggressive tone is the product of White House meetings in which Obama assessed the damage he suffered from the debt ceiling debate, identified mistakes, and adjusted his messaging and his team to put his candidacy on a stronger course. “Their new approach is to speak out for what they believe in and take it to the American people,” Durbin said.


The White House has convinced itself that the new strategy is working. “There is no question that we have turned the page on what was a tough summer and are headed in the right direction,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s communications director.




In the process, Obama and members of his administration have also embraced the activism of the liberal radicals who have been staging the Occupy Wall Street sit-ins and protests for the past three weeks in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, two blocks north of Wall Street. Their primary targets are this country’s business and financial leaders, and the politicians who protect their interests at the expense of the voters who put them in office.


The protesters argue that corporate capitalists, backed by corrupt politicians, have tipped the balance of the US economic system too far in favor of the already rich and powerful. The protesters claim that this has condemned the American middle class to a downward economic spiral due to mounting debts and shrinking economic opportunity and home values. As one protester’s sign put it: “The loan shark ate my world.”


The protests have drawn a wide assortment of anarchists, communists, anti-globalization activists and disaffected young adults from across the country. They include many of the same groups of anarchists and liberal radicals who have disrupted recent meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.


The protesters have also drawn support from union leaders, including New York transit workers who have allowed some of the protesters to take shelter inside Lower Manhattan’s subway stations.


Some of the protesters, wearing white face paint with streaks resembling blood at their lips, conducted a “zombie parade” down Broadway to underscore what they see as the ghoulish nature of capitalism.




Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said the Wall Street protests are, in fact, an attack on the American dream, and ultimately counterproductive.


“To be angry at somebody because they’re successful is anti-American in my opinion. This is a distraction from the failed policies of the Obama administration. Why be mad that you don’t have a job at the bankers on Wall Street? They’re the ones who help to create the jobs,” Cain said.


He added that, “We know that the unions and certain union related organizations have been behind these protests on Wall Street and other parts of the country. It’s coordinated to create a distraction so people won’t focus on the failed policies of this administration. It’s anti-American because to protest Wall Street and the bankers is basically saying that you’re anti-capitalism. The free market system and capitalism are the two things that have allowed this nation and this economy to become the biggest in the world.”




When he was asked about the Wall Street protests, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “I think the sad thing is, this is the natural product of Obama’s class warfare. Ronald Reagan used to tell the story about the British worker who stood by the road with his sign as a Rolls Royce went by and said someday we’re going to get that guy out of that car. When an American stood by the road as a Cadillac went by, he said that someday you’re going to buy that car. Reagan represented the real American tradition which is that you and your children have a chance to go out and work hard, the Steve Jobs experience. You can create a better future. You can do something better.”


Gingrich added, “We have had a strain of hostility to free enterprise and frankly, a strain of hostility to classic America starting in our academic institutions and spreading across this country. I regard the Wall Street protesters as a natural outcome of a bad education system teaching them really dumb ideas.”


Gingrich said that the anger of American businessmen whom he has met with is directed at the Obama administration. “They’re focusing their anger on the people who are causing them pain. They’re not angry about other people being successful, they’re angry about an Obama administration stopping them from having the chance to be successful.”




The New York protests started after an anti-consumer online publication, Adbusters, issued a call for people to occupy Wall Street to protest corporate greed. The protests had gone largely unnoticed by the media until New York City police officers pepper-sprayed a couple of participants and arrested more than 700 protesters marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. That made news around the world, and attracted mass media coverage, focusing on the hard luck stories of some of the protesters.


This fostered the spread of the protests to other cities across the country, including Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. However, the protesters still have no central political or economic agenda, aside for anger at those who are more successful than they are, and the politicians who do their bidding. The protesters have a long way to go to match the accomplishments of the conservative Tea Party movement, which used the 2009 grass roots protests against Obamacare to organize a semi-permanent conservative political movement capable of influencing the outcome of national elections.




Obama said that the Wall Street protests express “the broad based frustration of the American people about how our financial system works.” He then went into a populist tirade against “hidden fees, deceptive practices [and] derivative cocktails that nobody understands and that exposed the entire economy to enormous risks.”


This was a throwback to Obama’s radical roots working in the streets of Chicago as a community organizer. Singling out banks for attack was a favorite tactic of Obama’s political mentor, Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky. According to Alinsky, the goal is to foment enough public discontent, confusion and chaos to spark the kind of violent social upheavals that Marx, Engels and Lenin predicted in order to overthrow the status quo and depict it as fatally flawed. Similarly, “the key to radical social change,” according to Alinsky’s biographer, Stanley Kurtz, “was to turn the wrath of America’s middle class against large corporations.”


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, whose job it is to protect our free market financial system, also expressed support for the protesters, saying, “I feel a lot of sympathy for what you might describe as the general sense among Americans that we’ve lost a sense of possibility, that after a lost decade of income growth and fiscal irresponsibility, a devastating financial crisis and a huge loss of confidence in public institutions, people do wonder whether we have the ability to do things that can help the average person’s sense of opportunity.”




The movement has struck a chord in liberal New York circles, attracting prominent figures such as former New York Gov. David Paterson and one of the world’s most ruthless capitalists, billionaire George Soros, who said the demonstrators had every reason to be angry at the US financial system for jeopardizing their future.


“I can sympathize with their grievances,” Soros told reporters, faulting US banks for driving small businesses out of existence by boosting credit charges to unsupportable levels. Soros should know. During the 1990’s, Soros made his fortune by speculating in international currencies. On September 16, 1992, known as Black Wednesday, Soros sold 10 billion British pounds short, forcing the devaluation of the pound, and making Soros notorious as “the man who broke the Bank of England.”


Though born Jewish, Soros has been an outspoken critic of Israel, financing the liberal J Street Washington lobby, and the web-based organization which helped finance and engineer liberal attacks on Republican candidates in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections. Nevertheless, Soros blames the current financial crisis on the selfish conduct of banks and the leaders of US industry.




Obama’s original jobs proposal was so bereft of new ideas that even Senate Democrats refused to bring it to the floor in its original form. In response to repeated public calls from Obama for congressional action, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called his bluff by demanding an immediate vote. This so embarrassed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who knew that Senate Democrats would vote against Obama’s original bill, that he violated the longstanding etiquette by changing Senate rules with only a majority vote. During the Bush administration, when Republicans controlled the Senate, and threatened to use the same tactic to force votes on long stalled conservative judicial appointments, they were widely condemned by the media for threatening what was then called “the nuclear option.” Yet Reid and the Democrats got away with the same tactic with hardly any voices raised in protest in the liberal media.




A few days later, the Democrats added insult to injury by stripping out the proposed elimination of special tax breaks for the oil companies and Wall Street tycoons at the request of Senate Democrats, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Charles Schumer of New York who rely on their campaign contributions.


Instead, the new Senate bill would keep the special tax breaks benefitting their favored supporters in place, while imposing a blanket 5.6% surtax on all taxpayer income in excess of $1 million. This was the latest version of the Democrats’ class warfare assault on “millionaires and billionaires,” who are already paying the lion’s share of federal taxes to support this government. The surtax would apply to investment income as well as wages and inherited wealth, pushing the top income tax rate to 45.2 percent in 2013 if the George Bush-era tax cuts are also allowed to expire on schedule at the end of 2012. It would replace a raft of business and upper income tax hikes in the original White House package, the largest of which would have limited the value of itemized deductions for families earning more than $250,000 a year.


The White House immediately endorsed the modified proposal, and again called for immediate congressional action to pass the bill.




Senate Minority Leader McConnell accused Democrat leaders of reworking the bill “not to grow bipartisan support” but “to sharpen its political edge.” A spokesman for House Speaker Boehner said Democrats should focus on identifying “areas of common ground” with Republicans “to create a better environment for job creation” instead of floating “desperate tax hike gimmicks . . . to cover up divisions within the Democratic caucus.”


Democrats admitted that the latest changes in the jobs bill are unlikely to succeed in their stated goal of getting the proposal passed by Congress. Several Senate Democrats, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, oppose the increased government spending in the bill more than the tax hikes that have been proposed to cover the cost. No Republican is likely to vote for the bill, which means that Reid will be unable to muster the 60 votes he would need to end a Republican filibuster of the bill when it is brought up for debate.


Republicans have criticized the specifics in Obama’s job proposal which would further expand the intrusion of the federal government as misguided but they have said that they might support some of its elements, such as investments in education and transportation infrastructure, and tax cuts for small business owners, if they were proposed separately.




Even some liberal media outlets such as the Washington Post editorial page, were outraged by the Democrats’ shameful political exploitation of what Obama himself acknowledged is an urgent national jobs crisis, and the protection of the oil and companies and Wall Street hedge fund managers whose special “carried interest” tax breaks would be protected under the new Senate version of Obama’s plan.


The editorial says the restored “oil and gas tax subsidies are no more defensible than any other special-interest break. And the favorable treatment of ‘carried interest’ is especially pernicious.”


It is more than ironic that the modified Obama jobs proposal now only pretends to shift the tax burden to the “millionaires and billionaires” whom Obama and the Democrats have targeted as the enemy in their class warfare political strategy. It makes the administration’s true message to the millionaires and billionaires who contribute to Democrat re-election campaigns clear: “Don’t worry, we’ll protect you.”


The Washington Post and Bloomberg News contributed to this story



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