Obama says messaging, not policy, was his biggest mistake. Is that true?
In a TV interview Obama says the presidency is not just about setting the right policy, but explaining it to the American people. What critics and supporters say about his record.
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The negative view of conservative critics is that, although Obama inherited a bad economy, he has made things worse by failing to focus squarely on job-friendly policies. His stimulus programs pursued a range of liberal objectives, from aiding labor unions to expanding green energy to aiding municipal governments. His effort to expand health coverage to more Americans imposes new taxes on individuals and businesses, while lacking effective cost controls for the health-care system. At a time of high gasoline prices, he has regulated domestic energy production rather than encourage it.Skip to next paragraph
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The critics agree there's a "messaging" problem, but not in the way Obama means. They complain that instead of making moves to inspire business confidence (such as tackling the federal debt problem or streamlining regulations) Obama demonizes private sector job creators as "fat cats" and as wealthy people who aren't paying their fair share in taxes.
Some also blast Obama for diluting the rule of law (a foundation for free-market enterprise) with bureaucratic whim, as when bond investors were pushed aside in government-assisted restructuring of Detroit automakers.
Although these harsh views emerge most loudly from Republicans, they are echoed by some voices on the left as well. Blogger Mickey Kaus compiled a list of "Top 10 Things Obama Could Have Done Differently" last year, including some moves conservatives would agree with.
Obama's defenders argue that his policies have helped to steer a crisis-wracked economy out of recession, and that policy shortcomings are more about Republicans' failure to compromise than about any lack of vision on Obama's part. On the national debt, for example, they say Obama has shown readiness to strike a "grand bargain" that includes major long-term spending cuts. The president's only stipulation is that the plan be a "balanced" one that also includes higher tax rates on the rich, as were in place during the 1990s.
On health care, they argue that the new taxes (and penalties for large firms that don't offer insurance) will not be job killers. Even some conservatives agree with Mr. Kaus in arguing that a push toward a universal health-care system, far from stifling business, would encourage risk-taking and job-hopping, because people wouldn't be afraid of losing access to medical care if they lose a job or see a business venture fail.
Although the effectiveness of Obama's Recovery Act is much debated, a large majority of economists in one survey said the extra spending and tax cuts helped keep America's unemployment rate lower in 2010, as the nation emerged from recession. A plurality in this IGM Economic Experts Panel also said they believed that "the benefits of the stimulus will end up exceeding its costs."
Those are just some of the prominent lines of argument on both sides. Expect to hear more of these between now and when voters get to render their own official judgment in November.