With the debate-induced collapse of the "demonize Mitt Romney" strategy, Team Obama's positioning is now "things are getting a little better and this is as good as anybody could do." Lets take a look.
Much of the media have supported the Obama contention that the Labor Department's much-quoted 7.8% September unemployment number represents a significant breakthrough - never mind that it is based on a "household survey" showing an increase of 873,000 jobs - the most since 1983 - while the survey of employers showed an increase of 114,000 - much less than what is needed to keep up with growth of the workforce. (See Jack Welch's critique of how weird the 7.8% number is.) The reality is that we still have about 23 million un- or under employed, almost 1/6 of the population under the poverty line, 47 million on foodstamps, and household income down 8.2% in four years - all after the recession officially ended in June 2009. And every weapon the administration has is being deployed - we are adding over $1,000,000,000,000 in debt annually, and the Federal Reserve is printing money with no apparent concern for the inevitable inflation. No wonder Rasmussen has 29% of the public saying that the economy is getting better while 53% say it is getting worse.
The speechwriters for the ongoing debates will have a hard time with this reality. For the Democrats the message has to be about a questionable rate of change on the margin when everybody knows that we remain mired in high joblessness and declining incomes. For the Republicans the message needs to be about ideas to make things better rather than quibbling about accounting or hoping for bad numbers. Romney / Ryan fully understand the reality and should be able to win this discussion when speaking directly to the public, but there is some danger of appearing too harsh.
More broadly, the "America in Decline" narrative is eating at our psyche. This was Jimmy Carter's problem - just turn down the thermostat. No Barack! That is not who we are.
The second dimension that will unfold in the Romney / Ryan campaign is "what would be different in another four years of Obama?" As the "blame Bush" argument has gotten long in the tooth, there has been a turn to "blame Congress" (The Republican House; not the Democratic Senate.) So, whether this is legitimate or not, how would it change in a second Obama administration?
- Both moderately liberal Charlie Cook and moderately conservative Stu Rothenberg agree that the House will in all likelihood remain Republican. With the current balance being 242 Republican to 193 Democrat, even if all of the "toss-up" races were to go Democrat, the Republicans would hold a safe majority of 10 or more seats.
- John Boehner - who Obama stiffed on a near budget deal in 2011 - will be speaker again. Even the Democratic sympathizers agree that Obama doesn't like to interact with people who don't agree with him - reporters, Congressional leaders, foreign leaders. And the total lack of "reach-across-the-aisle" votes on Obamacare and the Stimulus Plan provide no relationships to build on.
- It is a bit late in the cycle, but perhaps Obama will yet explain how he will work with a Republican House to finally promote a Simpson-Bowles "grand agreement". Short of that, what you have is the end of the "Bush Tax cuts", an expiration of the temporary partial Social Security tax holiday, the implementation of the automatic budget cuts in January, and another impasse when the next requirement to increase the debt ceiling arrives. Today is as good as it gets.
In 2008 the American voters were willing to swing for a vacuous "Hope and Change" message from a candidate with no business or leadership experience. This time they have a clearer choice between a successful businessman with a record of positive bipartisanship in Massachusetts or Obama's "New Normal." That's easy.
This week's video is a 2008 clip of Obama explaining how to run a campaign when you have no record and no ideas - a stunning preamble for the anti-Romney campaign which was punctured in the first debate.