Around elections, presidential candor – even in limited amounts – can be politically awkward.
So at a meeting Wednesday morning with reporters, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was at pains to tamp down reaction to comments President Obama made for an interview with the New York Times Magazine that will be distributed this Sunday.
In the cover story, by reporter Peter Baker, Mr. Obama admits to learning “tactical lessons” in his first two years in office. He let himself look too much like “the same old tax and spend liberal Democrat,” the president said. When it comes to public works programs, the President said, “there’s no such thing as shovel ready projects.” And he raised the possibility he should not have included tax breaks as part of the stimulus bill and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts,” thus casting the aura of bipartisan compromise on the legislation. And the story said the president is spending time with key aides mapping a changed course for the next two years.
"There is no post mortem” underway, Mr. Gibbs told reporters. As to the magazine’s report that White House insiders think the administration has a communications problem, Gibbs quipped he was “sort of used to it.” In the magazine story, Gibbs is quoted as saying “I haven’t been to a policy-problem meeting in 20 months.”
Republicans were quick to jump on the president’s comments. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) sent out a press release titled “Obama Acknowledges Stimulus Failures – Does Bishop Agree?” The sub-head read "Twenty Days Until Election Day, Self-Proclaimed ‘Tax and Spend Democrat' Admits There is ‘No Such Thing as Shovel-Ready Projects.' "
The press release referred to a race pitting incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop, who represents the eastern end of Long Island, against Republican challenger Randy Altschuler. But the NRCC said it fired off a similar release to a long list of Congressional districts.
Democratic congressional candidates can ill afford any additional bad news. Non-partisan analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report wrote Wednesday that it was “triage time for Democrats.” Pivotal swing voters have swung and “are now giving Republicans big leads,” he says. The analyst says “this year is shaping up to be something of a repeat of the 52-seat House and eight-seat Senate rout of Democrats of 1994.”