Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fired Up, Ready to Go (Jobs Speech)

Seemed like a good speech to me. 

I'll leave the policy to others, but on the politics...look, Republicans really believe different things than Democrats, and they have the votes to block stuff they don't want. A speech, no matter how good, doesn't really change that. Barack Obama gives a good speech, and I thought this one was probably one of his better ones, but that's all.

Could barnstorming the country help? The evidence seems to be that under the right conditions, maybe it helps a bit around the margins. Maybe. Lots of very popular presidents have tried and failed; this president isn't particularly popular right now, and he's especially not popular at all in most Republican House districts. So as far as things passing Congress, it's not going to be a good speech or public pressure that would do it; it would be finding a way to make it in the interests of House Republicans to cut a deal that gets them things they want, too. Does this package, and an accompanying legislative strategy, do that? I don't know, but that's the question to ask, I think.

That's the legislative side of the politics. There's also the electoral side. For that, I think there are two issues. There's the question of what any of this actually does to the economy, which has to do whether anything gets through Congress, and what they're doing within the executive branch, and then what effects any of that has. 

The second issue, however, is that much of the speech was pretty clearly targeted to grumpy but very attentive liberals, and at least to my ear it probably buys the president a few weeks of good will from them by preaching the liberal gospel. That's not a huge deal, and it almost certainly doesn't have any effect at all on WH 2012 (when Rick Perry or Mitt Romney will take care of that), but it's never a bad thing for presidents to earn themselves a bit of leeway with whatever groups they can. 

There's also the long-term effects, if any, of presidential rhetoric. I'm pretty skeptical that those really exist to any great extent, but as far as I know there's virtually no strong evidence one way or another. And, hey, he's president, and there's certainly no evidence that any of this stuff hurts. 


  1. In presenting the plan with repeated references to the fact that Republicans have endorsed all or most of the individual parts in the past, he once again presents himself as the reasonably minded, middle-of-the-road conciliator (even while boosting his own side with some of the rhetorical flourishes). So if it doesn't pass, the blame once again falls to the ornery, uncooperative Republicans. As an approach, it's not unlike his dealing with the Iranians: make them an offer and blame them when it doesn't come to fruition. (Of course, if it does pass, then he has another legislative victory. I wonder which helps more in the coming elections.)

  2. I tend to think this speech was much better optics than policy. Tax cuts? Check. Money in people's pockets? Check. Since most voters will have a job (or choose not to have one: homemaker, retired, student, etc.), that would seem to be good.

    On the other hand, as a liberal, I tend to seriously doubt that giving people a pittance of money in their pockets will make much of a difference. I'm happy that it's not an income tax cut, so the working poor get it. That's good for all of us, because they'll spend it. But that's really not that much economic stimulation. There's some more traditional 'building stuff' stimulation in there, but it's still not that much.

    So, I don't expect this to really help the economy, and as such, I don't expect it to help Obama's chances. It might look like it'd help his chances, but I don't think it will make a difference.

  3. Good points, I didn’t catch the actual speech but I did see the highlights while stopping in a liquor store for a six pack after work (which is fairly typical of the experience the average American voter will have with this speech) but I was struck by the differences in tone. Also the cashier liked it, does that count as a “Key to the Presidency” JB? Anyway I think it shows the type of campaign we will see over the next 14 months, combative and differential. There’s been a movement in some liberal quarters to see Obama as some weakling who will kowtow to conservative demands or secretly conservative, I know Paul Krugman has compared him to Nixon. I think this type of rhetoric might change that perspective. Mainly I was struck by an odd historic similarity. Traditionally (back when Dinosaurs roamed the Earth, like in 64’) right after Labor Day was the kick off of political campaigns, and LBJ started his road to one the biggest landslide’s in history on Sept 7th 1964 in old Cadillac Square in Detroit, I don’t think the same thing will happen in 2012 but I couldn’t help but think this type of speech-rhetoric-approach seems to be the plan for between now and Election Day.

  4. Flat-out what are the president's chances of re-election right now?

  5. This speech appeared to be aimed at staunching the President's slide in the polls. That has become a story in and of itself. A speech like this, on the highest viewer night of the week right, before the biggest tv event in months, without a chance for a Republican rebuttal... if his poll numbers don't increase they will certainly stabilize in days to come. And that kills the story of Obama's tumbling poll numbers, for now.

    BTW, clever move by the WH to make Boehner "force" Obama to give his speech Thursday instead Wednesday. If Obama had asked for the prime night to begin with, Boehner would have rightly accused the President of trying to upstage the Republican's post-debate coverage.

  6. Michael:
    I'd put his chances at 50/50 were the election held today.
    Since, as near as I can tell, the election isn't being held today, I'd say that it all depends on the state of the economy. If unemployment gets below about 8% by June, Obama likely gets reelected. If not, he loses.

    Economists are having a tough time figuring out this recession, because it's really not like the previous ones. My guess is that unemployment ticks down by next summer, but only marginally (to maybe 8.7%, maybe 8.5% if we're lucky) and Obama loses.

  7. Ever since Nixon imposed Soviet-style wage and price controls 12 months out from his re-election, thus goosing the economy (short-term) while paving the way for inflation (longer-term), its hard not to hear a speech at this point in the Presidential cycle and not think about what economic conditions it buys the incumbent to help re-election chances.

    I'm sure the tax incentives, particularly hiring incentives, increase the probability of small business hiring at the margins. The rest of it, the infrastructure spending, etc., has a bit of that "same old, same old" feel. Not terrible, but not transformational, and does seem to be better for GDP in mid-2012 than for the country going forward. Certainly not cringeworthy like Nixon's machination, but not really inspiring either.

  8. So as far as things passing Congress, it's not going to be a good speech or public pressure that would do it; it would be finding a way to make it in the interests of House Republicans to cut a deal that gets them things they want...

    Did you seriously write that Obama needs to consider cutting deals with the Tea Party led House? I don't read your blog (skipped over here from Sullivan's) so I'll assume you've been drunk for the past year or unobservant for some other reason. Obama has done nothing but try to cut deals with the GOP since he lifted hand off Bible after his inauguration and like Lucy and that proverbial football, the GOP has happily pulled it our from under him, even when he is selling out the progressives in his own party and doing a nifty impersonation of Eisenhower's ghost.

    Bipartisanship doesn't exist at this given moment and its time to say goodby to all that for the time being. The GOP has gleefully strung themselves out there on a clear message of destroying one man and country be damned in the process. They are not serious. These are not people to negotiate with any longer, they are people to ignore and move around.

    Win 2012 and then you can slide back into your version of Henry Clay.

  9. Seems to me there's a big difference in tone/style here. Before, Obama has set goals for Congress, and they've written the legislation. Health Care and Stimulus are great examples of this. I always thought it was Obama's attempt to return government function to constitutionally defined roles.

    This time, in the model used by Bush and Cheney, he's presented legislation for Congress to vote on, to be followed up by a deficit reduction plan.

    Instead of setting goals for Congress as a co-equal branch of government, he's resorting to leading Congress.

  10. No, Obama didn't present any legislation. He speechified, again.

    That's why the R's ignored him, and didn't formally respond, even as the Left whined about that lack of response. There was nothing to consider, as many of them said. It was just more empty rhetoric, bleating for Porkulus II. Maybe Obama wants Pelosi to be resurrected and write this one, too.

    Obama and the Left want to elevate themselves, using their opposition as prop. That's their goal here, not the country, or public policy. It's pure politics. As somebody astutely mentioned, campaigns historically get into high gear after Labor Day. Obama's following that same rule... he's just following it a year earlier than everybody else has.

    If any of this wasn't true, and this was more than just politics, well, Obama would have delivered a proposed bill, not a speech.

    This is all going to fall flat as a pancake. The lefty media will try to blow it up as best they can, and that may elevate leftist spirits some, which is a political plus, but I don't think it helps Obama's reelection. He won 53% of the electorate, but his absolute ceiling this time is likely 50-51%, and that only if things go swimmingly. More likely, I put him at 47-48% or so as of today, and dropping 28-29 states. And pandering to the Left, as this all is, doesn't help him where he needs help.

    What I'd tell Obama is, the first high profile bipartisan vote in quite some time took place on the debt ceiling recently. He needs to support all efforts to arrive at that same place and vote count (and it didn't happen because of him, it happened despite him).

    Do that, a few times, and he MAY have a shot at reelection. Otherwise, I'd say he dies on the vine, speechifying all the way out the door.

  11. I happen to be married to a classical low-information voter. She actually stayed in the room while I watched last night, which is unusual in itself. She made me rewind twice, once to point out that Biden's tie matched Michelle's dress, and once to check to see whether Biden was scratching his neck with his index or his middle finger.

    So she is a pretty good barometer of these things, and she liked it. She started by just grumbling about the sargeant at arms and how long it takes for the thing to start, but she looked up for the stuff about schools and the stuff about veterans. She was more interested than usual, and she liked, more or less, what she heard. And Biden used his index finger and was not flipping the bird to the President. At least that time.


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