JONATHAN CHAIT MAY 14, 2010
President Obama has been very careful to avoid anything that might smack of a "Mission Accomplished" moment on the economy. In Buffalo yesterday he really let loose:
“We can say beyond a shadow of the doubt today we are headed in the right direction,’’ Mr. Obama told a crowd of about 250 people during a swing through this economically depressed city. “All those tough steps we took –- they’re working, despite all the naysayers who were predicting failure a year ago’’
And here he is at a fundraiser that night, putting a finer point on things:
[W]e got our mops and our brooms out, we’re cleaning stuff out, and [Republicans are] sitting there saying, ‘Hold the broom better.’ (Laughter.) ‘That's not how you mop.’ (Laughter.) Don’t tell me how to mop. Pick up a mop! … But that wasn’t their strategy; it was not their strategy from day one. And I’m not making this up. This is public record. They’ve said in interviews: We made a political decision. We stood nothing to gain from cooperating. We knew things were going to be bad. And we figured, if we didn't do anything and if it didn’t work out so well, maybe the other side would take the blame. They’ve done their best to gum up the works; to make things look broken; to say no to every single thing. … So after they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back. (Laughter.) No! (Laughter and applause.) You can’t drive!
I think we can see his main political theme for 2010 and 2012 taking shape here: Republicans screwed the country up, Obama got to work fixing it, Republicans took an ultra-partisan stance on every issue, and if you give them power they'll screw things up again. It's quite simple, and has the added virtue of being true.
If the economy recovers to the point where Americans start to enjoy higher living standards, he's going to have a powerful argument against Republicans, who predicted doom and disaster. Of course, if the economy double-dips, he's screwed no matter what. Might as well position himself to get as much of the potential upside as possible. At some point there's little to gain in hedging your bets.