The real economic story – which Obama isn't telling
President Obama's acts feed the Republican narrative: blame big government for the economy. Why isn't Obama putting the blame where it belongs, on big business and Wall Street?
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Making a big deal out of the deficit – appointing a deficit commission and letting them grandstand with a plan to cut $4 trillion out of the projected deficit over the next ten years — $3 of government spending for every $1 of tax increase – is telling story A.Skip to next paragraph
Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
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What the public hears is that our economic problems stem from too much government and that if we reduce government spending we’ll be fine.
Announcing a two-year freeze on federal salaries – explaining that “I did not reach this decision easily… these are people’s lives” – is also telling story A.
What the public hears is government bureaucrats are being paid too much, and that if we get the federal payroll under control we’ll all be better off.
Proposing a freeze on discretionary (non-defense) spending is telling story A. So is signaling a willingness to extend the Bush tax cuts to the top. So is appointing his top economic advisor from Wall Street (as apparently he’s about to do).
In fact, the unwillingness of the President and Washinton Democrats to tell story B itself promotes story A, because in the absence of an alternative narrative the Republican story is the only one the public hears.
Obama’s advisors explain the President’s moves are designed to “preempt” the resurgent Republicans – just like Bill Clinton preempted the Gingrich crowd by announcing “the era of big government is over” and then tacking right.
They’re wrong. By telling story A and burying story B, the President legitimizes everything the right has been saying. He doesn’t preempt them; he fuels them. He gives them more grounds for voting against raising the debt ceiling in a few weeks. He strengthens their argument against additional spending for extended unemployment benefits. He legitimizes their argument against additional stimulus spending.
Bill Clinton had a rapidly expanding economy to fall back on, so his appeasement of Republicans didn’t legitimize the Republican world view. Obama doesn’t have that luxury. The American public is still hurting and they want to know why.
Unless the President and Democrats explain why the economy still stinks for most Americans and offer a plan to fix it, the Republican explanation and solution – it’s big government’s fault, and all we need do is shrink it – will prevail.
That will mean more hardship for tens of millions of Americans. It will make it harder to remedy the bad economy. And it will set Republicans up for bigger wins in the future.
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