I’m afraid that TPM writer Brian Beutler’s “Biggest Challenge” piece is actually more “noise” than “touchstone” as David Kurtz calls it. It is absolutely the left-of-center CW that Obama should not have parroted GOP fiscal rhetoric, particularly on the debt. I hear it every day. It is, no doubt, true.
The trouble with the “touchstone” imprimatur is that this fact is basically irrelevant. Ask yourself if we would be materially better off if Obama had made the strong Keynesian argument early on, when only Paul Krugman and a handful of liberal economists supported such a measure. One, it would never have passed (the argument the administration made at the time about attempting a bigger initial stimulus) and two, Obama would have been way out in left field with no policy success to show for it.
Would the public be better educated about macroeconomic theory? If practically the entire global field of professional economics – from Chicago to Berlin – still doesn’t get it, I see no reason to believe that such a campaign would have educated John Q. Public to any great extent.
Obama’s problem isn’t that the public is confused about deficits or the stimulative effects of short-term deficit spending (they actually understand quite well that the government should be focusing on jobs and economic growth before deficits and debt, even Republicans), Obama’s problem is that he’s being blamed to a certain extent for the current economic conditions.
Obama’s rhetorical failure was not coming out of the bi-partisan box when the new Republican House was sworn in and calling on John Boehner to pass a jobs bill every single day since then, putting the responsibility and blame squarely where they belong. His bi-partisan Kabuki has worked wonders on the likes of Chris Matthews and David Frum but it has left the public deeply confused about who is to blame for not fixing our economic malaise.
Obama’s “biggest challenge” isn’t that he failed to differentiate saltwater from freshwater economics, it’s that he failed to differentiate the Democratic brand. That’s what too much fake bi-partisanship will do for you. In this case, not making it clear who is to blame.