President Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, said Sunday that the economic disaster left behind by the Bush administration made the current voter anger – and its toll on Mr. Obama’s agenda – virtually unavoidable.
“I said to him a year ago, ‘Mr. President, your numbers are going to be considerably worse a year from now than they are today, because you can't govern in an economy like this without great disaffection,’ ” said Mr. Axelrod on ABC’s “This Week.”
“And that's what's happened,” he added.
Last week's US Senate race in Massachusetts, however, suggests that Americans are less interested in explanations or blame than a change of the nation’s course. Given the depth of the continued economic crisis, that puts the Obama administration in the difficult position of trying to encourage hope while also keeping expectations reasonable.
The election last week of Republican Scott Brown to the US Senate seat previously held by Edward Kennedy marked the biggest setback to the Obama administration since it came to office. The Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, endangering some of Obama’s most important initiatives, including healthcare reform and greenhouse-gas regulations.
One year later
On Sunday, Axelrod suggested that Mr. Brown’s victory was the natural byproduct of the financial meltdown. The problems left to the Obama administration were so enormous that it could not make enough headway in a year to blunt voters’ frustrations, he said.
“When the president walked in the door, he was handed the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a financial crisis that held out the prospect of the collapse of the financial system and a fiscal crisis,” Axelrod said on “This Week.”
In casting voters’ minds back to a year ago, Axelrod sought to add context to the current frustrations. Yet there was also a note of blame in his comments.
“President Clinton left a $237 billion surplus; President Obama received a $1.3 trillion deficit,” he said.
The Massachusetts Senate race – a Democratic loss in a Democratic-leaning state – suggested that voters were not overly concerned about the past. Voters did not connect Brown to Bush-era policy, despite attempts by the White House and the Democratic challenger to make that link.
Instead, results showed that the Democratic candidate – who was closely aligned with the Obama agenda – did worst in counties with the highest unemployment. In short, voters wanted the change that Obama had promised.
On Sunday, Axelrod at times struck a defensive posture, justifying decisions as crucial that have become increasingly unpopular.
“Nobody wanted to have to throw a lifeline to the financial sector. Nobody wanted to shore up the auto industry. Nobody wanted a $787 billion emergency Recovery Act as our first initiative as president,” he said. “But our responsibility was to make sure that the economy didn't tip into a second Great Depression, which was a real possibility.”
“I have no regrets about that,” he added.
With the State of the Union address coming Wednesday, Obama’s challenge will be to pivot forward and convince Americas that he can lead the country out of recession quickly and effectively.
“We have to make this economy work for all Americans and not just for a fortunate few,” Axelrod said. “We've got to make sure that work pays, that people who work hard and meet their responsibilities get ahead, and we have to insist on responsibility from our institutions, whether it's on Wall Street or in Washington.
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