Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Obama's back

Today in Cleveland, Obama started to draw on a fund of latent credibility he may yet prove to have built up with all that infuriating bipartisan outreach.

Recall that as the healthcare endgame approached, Americans, for all their ambivalence about the healthcare bill, told pollsters that Obama was showing more good faith than Republicans, was more willing to work with the other side than the Republicans.

Now, as Jonathan Cohn put it today, "it's safe to say that President Obama has given up on bipartisanship, at least for the foreseeable future."  He is not shrill.  But he is ready -- overripe -- to call out the Party of No. To highlight its bad faith, even as he distinguishes between genuine philosophical differences and opportunistic obstruction. In addition to defending his own approach to government -- and framing a clear contrast between a platform of tax cuts for the rich and deregulation and Democrats' commitment to long-term investment and regulatory repair -- he is hammering Republicans for opposing their own ideas:
In fact, if the Republican leadership in Congress really wants to help small businesses, they’ll stop using legislative maneuvers to block an up or down vote on a small business jobs bill that’s before the Senate right now.  Right now.  (Applause.) This is a bill that would do two things.  It would cut taxes for small businesses and make loans more available for small businesses.  (Applause.)  It is fully paid for, won't add to the deficit.  And it was written by Democrats and Republicans.  And yet, the other party continues to block this jobs bill -– a delay that small business owners have said is actually leading them to put off hiring.

Look, I recognize that most of the Republicans in Congress have said no to just about every policy I’ve proposed since taking office.  I realize in some cases that there are genuine philosophical differences.  But on issues like this one -- a tax cut for small businesses supported by the Chamber of Commerce -- the only reason they’re holding this up is politics, pure and simple.  (Applause.)  They’re making the same calculation they made just before my inauguration:  If I fail, they win.  Well, they might think that this will get them to where they want to go in November, but it won’t get our country going where it needs to go in the long run.  (Applause.)  It won’t get us there.  (Applause.)  It won’t get us there.  (Applause.)  It won't get us there.  (Applause.)     

Obama may have failed to a degree, as Frank Rich warned from the beginning he must not, to get in front of populist rage against the banks as he forebore to foreclose and Geithner's stress tests repaired and/or papered over their depleted capital. But there, too, his mildness may have positioned him now to more effectively attack Republicans for opposing financial reform, and new curbs on health insurers' abuses, and restored Clinton-era tax rates for the wealthy:
With all the other budgetary pressures we have -– with all the Republicans’ talk about wanting to shrink the deficit -- they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 each to folks who are already millionaires.  And keep in mind wealthy Americans are just about the only folks who saw their incomes rise when Republicans were in charge.  And these are the folks who are less likely to spend the money -- which is why economists don’t think tax breaks for the wealthy would do much to boost the economy.

So let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everybody else:  We should not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage any longer.  (Applause.)  We are ready, this week, if they want, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less.  (Applause.)  That's 98-97 percent of Americans.  Now, for any income over this amount, the tax rates would just go back to what they were under President Clinton.

This isn’t to punish folks who are better off –- God bless them.  It’s because we can’t afford the $700 billion price tag.  (Applause.)  And for those who claim that our approach would somehow be bad for growth and bad for small businesses, let me remind you that with those tax rates in place, under President Clinton, this country created 22 million jobs and raised incomes and had the largest surplus in our history.  (Applause.)  

Again, there's no shrillness here. But there's a rich fund of transparent Republican hypocrisy and hysterical rhetoric to draw on while drawing a sharp contrast between a party committed to wealthy interests and a party committed to the common-wealth, to a progressive agenda cast as a restoration of balance, fairness and shared prosperity.

In the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Democrats are left holding the bag, pure and simple. There's just so much that good campaigning and strong messaging can do when you've governed for 20 months and unemployment is stuck near 10%. 

But for the third year running, bedwetting season ends in mid-September.  Obama is back, rhetorically -- clearly framing progressive investment and regulatory reform as a centrist restoration of balance and fairness, a renewed commitment to shared prosperity. I think he's going to do some damage control, as Reagan did with his "stay the course" in '82. 

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