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Will Obama's "Pivot" to Economy Be Different This Time?


In a series of speeches beginning in his home state of Illinois, President Obama will turn his attention this week to the economy in hopes of amassing public support for upcoming fiscal battles with Republicans. The NYT reports that the President’s “campaign-style tour of the Midwest” will include policy proposals for major economic issues like jobs and health care, as well as his expectations from Congress on looming fiscal debates:

“In a couple of months, we will face some more critical budget deadlines that require Congressional action, not showdowns that serve only to harm families and businesses — and the president wants to talk about the issues that should be at the core of that debate,” Dan Pfeiffer, the president’s senior adviser, said in a mass e-mail on Sunday. […]

“The president thinks Washington has largely taken its eye off the ball,” Mr. Pfeiffer said in his e-mail. “Instead of talking about how to help the middle class, too many in Congress are trying to score political points, re-fight old battles and trump up phony scandals.”

President Obama isn’t really as faultless here as Pfeiffer maintains. Gun legislation and immigration reform, not jobs and the economy, were to be the issues that set the tone for the second term. No public opinion poll we’ve ever seen suggests that these issues are anywhere near as important to Americans as the economy right now, so we applaud the President’s effort to reposition it front and center. But having lost the gun battle and been forced to a draw, so far, on immigration, it is hard to avoid the impression that President Obama is changing the subject out of frustration. He hasn’t won his first battles and moved on with vigor and momentum; he’s been baffled and blocked and is changing the subject.

That’s something of a pattern with the current White House. Pivots to the economy get announced when setbacks occur or when poll numbers flag. Indeed, this President has pivoted so often and so inconclusively toward the economy that we are reminded of the verse in the Book of Proverbs: As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed. (26:14) He pivots to, he pivots fro, he pivots on.

That said, we are glad the President is paying attention. While the US economy seems to be recovering slowly from the crash and recession, and we have hopes for some continued improvement, there is much to be done. One of America’s great cities is taking refuge in bankruptcy, planning catastrophic cuts to pensioners and roiling credit markets with hardly a peep emanating from the White House. The President’s home state is Ground Zero right now of state fiscal collapse, led by unaffordable public spending and several aborted attempts to reform it.

The US faces similar problems on a national scale: health care costs are on course to bankrupt us, and the young—already saddled with paralyzing debt from rising education costs—are losing badly to retirees in a harrowing fight for limited resources. Services and social programs in America are undergoing their biggest crisis in affordability and quality in nearly a century, and some real national leadership is required. President Obama, who is in some ways the most liberal Democrat ever elected to the presidency, could do what few others in American life could do and open a serious national conversation about the deep reforms needed to put the gloss back on our social contract.

That seems unlikely; this White House grows more cautious as time goes by. And as we’ve noted, there’s a certain tendency to see carefully crafted speeches as a substitute for action. It seems sadly likely that rather than announcing brave new ideas and making bold and sweeping proposals, President Obama will work to rally supporters behind the conventional set of Democratic talking points.

As a strategy, it’s unlikely to change GOP minds and votes. Many presidents have tried to turn public opinion by barnstorming the country; few succeed. President Obama faces an uphill climb. The President’s Republican opponents in the House of Representatives are long past worrying what the President says about them. If hot White House rhetoric couldn’t budge Congress on gun control, we don’t see much chance that words from the bully pulpit, carefully crafted and powerfully delivered as they may be, will stampede the GOP into endorsing the President’s economic program.

[President Obama speaks at NDU, courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • Corlyss

    Is there any reason to believe that “this time will be different?”

    Of course not. His “pivot” to the economy will all be about how Obamacare will save the fiscal health of the nation. Why? Because in 2014 Republicans are going to hang Obamacare around the necks of his supporters and set fire to it.

    • Kavanna


  • bpuharic

    As many objective analyses have shown, the US congress is the most right wing in 60 years. The American right has gone radically extreme, so it’s no surprise that, in order to avoid polarizing the country further, a moderate Democrat has sought to reduce political tensions.

    While WRM obsesses with Detroit, 340M Americans who DON’T live there are still feeling the effects of 30 years of failures of supply side economic mythology with the hangover from the 2007 recession.

    One of the problems we have, and which is ignored by the right, is the growing economic inequality in America. A new study finds it is, to a large extent, far worse in the Red model states states, so beloved of the good professor, than it is in the Blue states. Social mobility is better in Newark than it is for Dallas. It’s worse for white children in Atlanta than it is for white children in my hometown of Pittsburgh. In fact, the city with the highest social mobility is San Francisco, so despised of the Red model fetishists.

    • Gene

      All those upwardly mobile San Franciscans will need the more traditional type of mobility too, since actually buying a house in that workers’ paradise is just about impossible.

      • Jeff Jones

        The left loves to claim that blue states have a higher standard of living. One of my colleagues bought his 6-bedroom 4 bath house in Texas for around $470,000 in 2006. He sold it for around $460,000 in 2012 and moved to a mediocre neighborhood near our headquarters in Santa Clara, California. He’s paying $1.1 million for a 22-year old 3-bedroom 2-bath house, and the rooms are tiny. But, hey, the climate is good there, right?

        • Fred

          I don’t know if you’re new here, Jeff, but bpuharic is our resident troll. Nothing he says makes any sense outside the context of DNC talking points or pseudo-intellectual atheist blogs. As I said on another thread, his combination of stupidity, obnoxiousness, and arrogance has the same affect as itching powder. He is a gifted troll. Still, arguing with him is about as fruitful as arguing with a child, a drunk, or a lunatic. Hard as it may be, I recommend ignoring him.

          • bpuharic

            While I generally ignore insults, since that’s all the right has left, Fred’s arrogance leaves me feeling proud. He’s the apotheosis of my argument. He ignores references, disdains evidence, chastises those who don’t sing the right wing party line, and is the perfect example of the epistemic closure of the far right

            Thanks Fred. Couldn’t have done it without you.

          • Jeff Jones

            > He ignores references, disdains evidence, chastises those who don’t sing
            the right wing party line, and is the perfect example of the epistemic
            closure of the far right

            All of which I, and others, have witnessed you doing from a left perspective. You have ignored every source I’ve posted, especially the one from NYT that warned back in 2006 that the Canadian health system was increasingly relying on private clinics. Remember that one? or did you pout and forget it?

          • bpuharic

            Aw, poor boy. Did I ignore a single data point?

            Perhaps you ignored the fact the US has the most expensive healthcare in the world. That’s a fact you ignored.

            You ignored the fact 500,000 Americans go overseas for healthcare each year.

            Want to trade references? Because you seem not to want to deal with them IF show your argument makes no sense at all.

            Left perspective? Uh…no. Fox isn’t ‘left’.

    • Marty Keller

      Data source, please. Also, please note that “the right” (whatever that means) is not ignoring “the growing economic inequality”; it’s just resisting the leftist assumption that the government’s job is to manage this. Well, OK, it could, but by doing less rather than more.

      • bpuharic


        And the GOP is managing this like a bank robber would want laws against bank robbery repealed

        Taxes are the lowest in decades, especially capital gains even AFTER the Obama increase; we deregulated banks and went on a 30 year right wing supply side economics binge

        And the right feigns horror at the economic Fukushima, proclaiming it did NOTHING to cause this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • Jeff Jones

          Once again you use a left-leaning blog as a source. Here, let me counter your argument with a Glenn Beck quote.

          And you can’t even substantiate your position with that. This blog you provided says the Democrats have their share of inflexible ideologues. So, I suppose the side you don’t like is the one that needs to be more flexible, right?

          • bpuharic

            To the right wing, any non-Fox news source is left wing. And the news source references a study. Can’t help it if you can’t handle the evidence.

            It’s why you lost the last 2 elections while Romney was writing his acceptance speech.

          • Jeff Jones

            I’m not right wing. Again, if I was, I’d be reading Malkin and not Mead. And you conveniently ignored the fact that your source allows that the Democrats have plenty of ideologues.

            What does Romney have to do with this discussion?

          • bpuharic

            Most of WRM’s posters on this blog are right wing Jacksonian populists, as described in his book “Special Providence”.

            Sure you’re right wing. Calling NPR ‘left wing’ is ridiculous since to the right wing EVERYTHING is left wing by definition.

            Yep, the dems have plenty of ideologues INCLUDING OBAMA who’s sent precisely


            Wall Street bankers to jail.

            Guess that makes me left wing, huh?

    • Jeff Jones

      > One of the problems we have, and which is ignored by the right, is the growing economic inequality in America.

      How many times do you and other liberals have to fail at top-down engineering of equality of outcome before you’ll finally give it up? It’s like 5,000 years of recorded human experience mean nothing to you. You’re here now and it’s going to be different, even though it has failed every time it’s ever been tried.

      You want to know what top-down equality of outcome programs look like? Take a gander at Detroit, South Chicago, East L.A., and…yes…Berkeley, which has a horrendous crime rate. Liberals know they can’t blame these things on Republicans because there haven’t been any in these places for decades. So, you just sweep it under the rug. But, that’s getting more and more difficult with high-profile crises like Detroit. As that favorite of the left, Tim Wise once said, “Tick…tock…tick…tock.”

      • bpuharic

        Naturally, being right wing, you assume your failed policies are further validated by failure

        Any reason why you thing American social mobility…the worst in the western world…is proof of success?

        Any reason you think the greatest predictor of a child’s income is the income of his parents means we have great social mobility?

        In fact we DON’T have social mobility in this country.

        You love the Marie Antoinette philosophy. The peasants are revolting. And that’s also proof of your right wing ideology

        Somewhere I read that “all men are created equal”

        To the right that’s communist ideology. To the rest of us, it was a basis for a revolution.

  • Kavanna

    About pivots and hinges, I think Solomon had it pegged.

    • Corlyss

      Okay. I admit it. I don’t know what Solomon said about pivots and hinges. Please, tell me, so I don’t spend hours trying to google it.

      • Jeff Jones

        He’s talking about the quote WRM provided:

        “As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed. (26:14) He pivots to, he pivots fro, he pivots on.”

        …meaning the door moves back and forth but never goes anywhere, just like a lazy person in their bed – they toss and turn, but never drag their rear end out of bed.

        • Corlyss


  • foobarista

    To go with the basketball analogies so loved by our President, one wonders if he can’t be called for traveling? He’s definitely “moved his pivot foot” far too often…

    • Jeff Jones

      Traveling? Yes, he and his have certainly done their “fair share” of that…at our expense, of course.

  • wigwag

    “But having lost the gun battle and been forced to a draw, so far, on immigration, it is hard to avoid the impression that President Obama is changing the subject out of frustration. He hasn’t won his first battles and moved on with vigor and momentum; he’s been baffled and blocked and is changing the subject.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    I’m no fan of Barack Obama, but it’s pretty plain that the President is a far more sophisticated student of politics than Professor Mead. The idea that President Obama lost the gun battle and may be losing the immigration battle is remarkably naïve. From the President’s point of view (and the point of view of anyone with more than a high school level understanding of politics), he won the gun battle. In his heart of hearts, the President is surely wishing the GOP well as its members in the House of Representatives declare war on the fasting growing population cohort in American history; Latino Americans and their not-so legal relatives.

    The GOP may think it has won a great battle in voting down the gun control compromise and it may have succeeded in placating voters in Congressional districts that Democrats have no chance of winning anyway, but the victory is pyrrhic. Once again, the keystone cops who dominate the GOP have proven incapable of distinguishing between success and failure.

    The gender gap on gun control is wide and growing; as recently as May, 2013, the gender gap reached 21 percent. Women have always been more supportive of gun control than men but the gap has become stratospheric. While the Republicans were working overtime to fulfill the whims of their white male base, the Democrats were using the gun control debate to make inroads with suburban women, with moderate women and even with GOP women.

    The gender gap has been a persistent and growing feature of American presidential elections for decades but in 2012, at 20 percent, it was larger than at any time in American history. Can a Republican presidential candidate ever hope to overcome a 20 percent gender gap? What does the GOP anticipate the gender gap will be in 2016 when Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate? Who won the recent gun control debate; the GOP by antagonizing even more women voters or President Obama by continuing to reach out to them?

    While Professor Mead’s characterization of Obama losing the gun control debate is off base, his assertion that at best, he is fighting to a draw in the immigration battle is absurd. While Republicans have proven adept at turning lemon aide back in to lemons, Obama is doing exactly the opposite; he’s adding a little sugar to the otherwise sour beverage an inviting tens of millions of Latinos over to enjoy the delicious beverage.

    Obama beat Romney by 44 percent amongst Latinos, who are and will continue to be, the fasting growing population cohort in American history. As the GOP works to make plain to these voters that they are despised and unwanted, Obama and the Congressional Democrats are welcoming them with open arms. If the past history of other voting blocks like Jews, blacks, Irish, Italians and Asians are any guide, these new Latino voters will be voting for Democratic congressional and presidential candidates for decades to come.
    Most ominously for the GOP, it is not just antagonizing Latino citizens, it is doing an even better job of antagonizing the American born children of illegal Latino immigrants. These children are citizens and they can vote. By 2016, the American born children of illegal immigrants could realistically provide 250,000-500,000 additional votes for Democratic congressional candidates and the Democratic presidential candidate.
    If Professor Mead thinks the GOP is winning on either the gun control issue or the immigration issue, he needs to wake up and smell the java. On gun control, the GOP is shooting itself in the foot with women voters; a group it can ill-afford to antagonize. On the immigration issue, the GOP is saying “adios” to a segment of the American population that is fast becoming political gold.
    When it comes to gun control and immigration, Obama and his Democratic friends are laughing all the way to the bank. Whether its more revolting or pathetic to watch the GOP commit suicide without even realizing it, is an open question.

    • Marty Keller

      Wow. After accusing WRM of a high school analysis of politics, Wig offers a grade school version, complete with caricatures of various voters and linear assumptions about the course of history. Nice work if you can get it.

      • wigwag

        Thanks, Marty. I will be looking forward to your sophisticated take on the subject.

    • Corlyss

      How do you figure Obama won the gun issue? No states have changed a thing because he got all weepy about Sandy Hook. None of the 23 states with stand-your-ground laws are likely to decide, after a trial in which a man being beaten up by a gansta wannabe defended himself from such attack and was acquitted after the Government did everything in its power to destroy him, that they should allow the criminal element to have the advantage of an encounter. I’m mystified as to exactly how Obama won that argument.

      With regard to the immigration issue, tell me again why Republicans should hasten to please 17% of the population, only 48% percent of whose eligible voters vote, while in the process confounding 63% of the population, of whom 75% vote. Where’s the payoff for Republicans in that calculation?

      • wigwag

        Sure, Corlyss, but first let me stipulate that from a substantive point of view, the gun control measures that were being talked about were useless. They wouldn’t have prevented one death and they certainly wouldn’t have done anything to deter a mad man like the one who killed the poor victims in Sandy Hook.

        With that said, presidential elections (and many congressional races) are won at the margins and they are decided by swing voters. Those swing voter are increasingly leaning towards the Democrats and a particularly important segment of this population is female.

        As recently as four months ago, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that while only44 percent of men favored stricter gun control (including a ban on assault weapons), 65 percent of women did. These numbers are not an anomaly; in January of 2013, a CNN poll found that 65 percent of women favored far stricter gun laws while 55 percent of men opposed them. In May, 2013, a Quinnipiac University poll found that a whopping majority of 61 percent of women supported stricter gun laws, while a slight majority of 51 percent of men were opposed.

        The GOP already has the white male vote locked up; courting that vote in a manner that reduces the likelihood that females will vote for the GOP is a disastrous strategy for a political party that is already hemorrhaging female voters. If the GOP can’t win women votes and if it can win swing votes, it can’t win presidential elections and it won’t win increasingly marginal districts. By the way, women already vote in higher percentages than men and the trend is likely to continue.

        As for the Latino vote; it is exploding. Yes Latinos voted in smaller percentages than whites or blacks in 2010 but the total number of Latino voters is going up very fast. The white vote, especially the white male vote, is declining both as a percentage of the total electorate and in terms of percentages of voters who choose to vote.

        Don’t take my word for it; instead listen to what Karl Rove had to say,

        “If we do with Latinos what we did with African-Americans, Republicans and conservatives will be doomed,”

        You might also find this column by Rove interesting,

        With more and more Latinos voting while fewer and fewer whites vote, antagonizing this constituency can only be described as deeply ignorant and self-destructive.

        Perhaps you can tell me how you expect a GOP candidate to ever be elected President again with a gender gap greater than 20 percent, with Hispanics voting Democratic by margins in excess of 40 percent, with the GOP consistently getting less than 10 percent of the African American vote and with Jews and Asians voting for Democrats in overwhelming numbers.

        I’d also be interested to know what you think the GOP can do to reverse the number of swing states that are turning decisively “blue.” New Hampshire comes to mind; so does Virginia. Then there’s Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and maybe Florida (which Obama took two elections in a row). Pennsylvania now seems to be permanently out of reach for Republicans primarily because of the voting patterns of the state’s blacks, Jews and Hispanics.

        There are countervailing patterns; Arkansas, West Virginia and Louisiana seem to be moving decisively into the GOP camp, but its far from enough. It is becoming more and more difficult to contemplate how the GOP can cobble enough electoral votes together to win a presidential election in the foreseeable future.
        There is another option; the GOP could come to grips with reality and decide to find a reasonable compromise between its principles and the facts on the ground.
        Of course, if it prefers, the GOP could continue to cleave to a diminishing white male base and slowly continue to bleed to death.

        • Corlyss

          I appreciate your thoughtful answer, Wag. I hear you on the statistics for both gun control and women voters and latinos.

          Some cautionary words tho’ about those polls: I’d want to see who exactly was polled. Registered voters means more than man-in-the-street polls; likely voters means more than registered voters. Secondly, anything in year after Sandy Hook is likely to be queered by the emotion surrounding the event. But it will dissipate, just as it always does. Thirdly, Republicans don’t lose the total women’s vote, it always breaks down by marrieds and unmarried. Married women by significant margins support Republicans over Democrats. Fourthly, polls on gun control are pretty meaningless when it comes to predicting votes. For decades BEFORE Florida began the steady liberation of lawful gun owners all over America, roughly 75% of those polled favored gun control. Yet, with the advent of “shall issue” state regimes, the numbers favoring gun control have steadily declined. By the time Nov 2014 rolls around, gun control won’t even be a glint in the eyes of the voters. All this race-baiter breast beating about Zimmerman ignores the fact that in the end the man who shot Martin was being physically assaulted, according to eye-witness testimony, and any rational person in the same position would have defended himself with whatever weapon he had. Eventually that fact will sink in and the noise will fade.

          Lastly on the latino issue, it hardly seems material to me how fast the latino vote continues to grow as long as the percentage of the population doesn’t approach anywhere the 63% of non-lation whites. The trick the Republicans it to find out why conservatives failed to vote for Romney.

          As for Rove’s predictions, they need to be taken with a grain of salt. He needs to remain relevant, and controversy guarantees that he will.

          You put the challenge to me to figure out how the GOP was going to win future elections without abandoning their principled opposition to the policies you cite. My answer to that is they don’t need to adapt themselves yet because things are not as dire as you and others paint them. The presidency is nice, but the real GOP strength is in taking state houses and governorships, which has been happening with regularity that ought to scare the Dems to death. With the winning of state houses and governorships, according to Frank Fahrenkopf, eventually comes the winning of the presidency. The story you tell is one the Dems have been touting for months. Why should I believe the narrative told by our enemies, knowing full well that they are not trying to do us any favors, esp. when the numbers just don’t support the narrative?

    • cubanbob

      The vast majority of Mexicans in this country are Mestizos. George Zimmerman is a Mestizo. Don’t assume the Hispanics in this country haven’t noticed this.

  • Anthony

    “…the truth is that, even in its current unsatisfactory condition, America is an immensely wealthy society. It produces $16 trillion in annual goods and services. Provides 136 million jobs and supports a median houshold income of $50,000…. We have two distinct economies: one that inflicts acute pain on a minority of Americans but inspires mass political and media criticism; and another that creates high wealth for the majority but is virtually ignored.” The moral is “perspective” even though economy is not performing spectacularly – still more than 90% of workers have jobs. Yet, logically we have more anxiety about economy and our standard of living (so scapegoating become one answer). “The prosperity paradox is this: America has plenty but not enough to sooth social conflict and allay economic anxiety” going forward.

    • Corlyss

      A-freakin’-men, Anthony!

  • Marty Keller

    “Will Obama’s ‘Pivot’ to Economy Be Different This Time?”


  • Bruce

    Given how weak the economy has been, why did it ever make sense to “pivot” away from it? Although given his solutions, it’s best that he did.

    • Jeff Jones

      Obama views jobs as a nuisance. He actually appeared to revel in these IRS and snooping scandals. They distracted the low information voters from the lack of jobs.

      • bpuharic

        Given the fact GOP policies were eliminating jobs a the rate of 800,000 a MONTH when Obama took office, I wouldn’t be too quick to reference his view of jobs.

        • Jeff Jones

          I’m sure you wouldn’t. But, the unemployed people I know wouldn’t come to you nor Obama. They need a paycheck, not a blame-Bush/Boehner-and-insist-we-aren’t-giving-Obama-enough-time platitude.

          • bpuharic

            Ah. So you, again, ignore the facts. No surprise. It’s what the right wing does

            As Reinhart and Rogoff demonstrated in their analysis of 800 years of financial sector crises, recoveries from THOSE are slower than others since they’re more systemic

            But go ahead. Blame Obama. Blame him for Pearl Harbor…and tell us what a leftie you are.

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