THE STUMP MAY 25, 2012
Politico went big with one of its conventional wisdom-setting 30,000-foot pieces today: “Obama Stumbles Out of The Gate.” As typical for this form, the piece is full of sniping quotes from anonymous consultants. The piece also manages to turn a smattering of voices speaking out against Obama’s anti-Bain Capital attacks—most notably Cory Booker, mayor of the 68th biggest city in the country—into a “Democratic blowback” against Obama. But what struck me most about it was its glaring internal contradiction.
First, the article gives us this:
Bain has turned into pain this week. For the first time, some top Democrats are questioning the strategy coming out of the reelection campaign’s Chicago headquarters, with some agreeing with Newark Mayor Cory Booker that Obama is making it too easy to paint him as anti-business. Ed Rendell and Steve Rattner have also publicly voiced concerns, echoed by many others in private conversations. The result has been a minor, but very public, split in the party on an issue Obama’s camp hoped would tag Romney with a series of crippling labels: elitist, mean-spirited, anti-worker.
“I feel like they are overly relying on the have-nots out-voting the haves,” said one well-known Democrat close to the campaign. “The economy has gotten a lot better for a lot of people. Instead of making those people feel good about growing businesses, the campaign seems to assume that angry people will prevail. There were successful business leaders in the 2008 coalition, who wanted to use their success to do good. We’re losing that inspiration.”
Then, just a few paragraphs later, it gives us this:
The jobs picture darkened just as Obama launched his campaign, undercutting his central pitch. After a series of promising jobs reports through the winter, the figures for the past two months were once again disappointing. That makes it harder for Obama to argue that the country is clearly headed in the right direction, and easier for Romney to contend that recovery will only come with change.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week, nearly twice as many people said they were worse off financially under Obama than said they were better off. And more than half the respondents disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy, for the 20th poll in a row.
“Now it’s back to the new normal: Jobs are hovering at a level that doesn’t make any real progress, along with people continuing to drop out of the workforce,” said Matt McDonald of Hamilton Place Strategies, who is an outside consultant to the Romney campaign.
The next monthly jobs report comes out next Friday, offering the possibility that this narrative will be cemented, or diluted. James Carville, while generally praising the campaign, said: “I’ve always had an issue with them talking about things getting better. When you say that, you kind of signal to people that they don’t feel it yet. And in a weird way, you’re telling them you’re kind of out of touch.”
OK, so which is it, guys? Should the campaign be touting the fact that the “economy has gotten a lot better for a lot of people,” or should it stop “talking about things getting better”? You do realize that you are putting forth two completely opposite critiques here, right? There actually is a huge tension that the Obama campaign is struggling with now, around just this question, whether to celebrate a comeback or cast blame for the sluggish recovery, and this piece could’ve grappled with that. But it didn’t—it simply tossed out the two contradictory critiques without acknowledging their utter inconsistency. That’s not going to cut it: like campaign messages, conventional wisdom-setting had better be clear and straightforward if it’s going to stick. Maybe the unnamed consultants can work this out.
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