Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Obama looks forward to the whip hand

There are no real surprises in Obama's "off the record" interview with the Des Moines Register, which the administration very sensibly put on the record after being publicly challenged to do so by editor Rick Green  (kudos to Green for getting it done). But there is some blunt talk, and a coherent vision of sustainable economic growth laid out in more detail than the campaign trail allows.

The blunt talk,  about how he will deal with Republicans in upcoming months, highlights lessons learned in the debt ceiling negotiations of summer. There's no mention of a mutual will to compromise, or coming together for the good of the country, or both sides giving a little, or there being good ideas on both sides. It's about leverage, or rather, a set of blunt instruments:

LAURA HOLLINGSWORTH: But particularly, sir, if you were granted a second term, how do you implode this partisan gridlock that has gripped Washington and Congress and basically our entire political structure right now?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Rick, let me answer you short term and long term. In the short term, the good news is that there’s going to be a forcing mechanism to deal with what is the central ideological argument in Washington right now, and that is: How much government do we have and how do we pay for it?

So when you combine the Bush tax cuts expiring, the sequester in place, the commitment of both myself and my opponent -- at least Governor Romney claims that he wants to reduce the deficit -- but we’re going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business.

It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.

And we can easily meet -- “easily” is the wrong word -- we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and even more in the out-years, and we can stabilize our deficit-to-GDP ratio in a way that is really going to be a good foundation for long-term growth. Now, once we get that done, that takes a huge piece of business off the table.

The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
Equally unvarnished was his assessment of Romney.  It's been debated ad nauseum whether the Obama campaign should paint Romney as a flip-flopper or as an extremist.  Here Obama effortlessly combines the two (as I always thought the campaign should) -- and brings home both she shape-shifting and the extremism Romney's pledged to with far more punch than usual:

So I just want to contrast with what happens if Mitt Romney is elected. I know that he likes to talk about his Massachusetts record. The truth is there really were two Mitt Romneys. There was the Mitt Romney who initially got elected, passed Obamacare, and was interested in being the governor of Massachusetts. After his second year, it was the Mitt Romney who was running for president and abandoned all his previous positions.

And the problem you’ve seen in this campaign is he’s made commitments -- his first day he’s got to introduce a bill to repeal Obamacare. And that's a commitment he cannot back off of. That is a huge, messy fight. His first day in office, he has to make some commitments in rolling back things like the Consumer Finance Protection Board we put in place on Wall Street reform. His budget -- the Ryan budget -- there’s no way that, if he’s president, he can avoid having a showdown on a budget that his running mate introduced, or a variation of it, because he’s committed to cutting spending by 20 percent across the board on discretionary and increasing defense spending by $2 trillion.
Likewise, while there's nothing new except an intriguing detail or two in Obama's outline of his own plans and vision, his conceptual tying together of the investments he advocates, and contrast with a Romney-led America that fails to make those investments, is also more sweeping and forceful than on the trail. Below, the summation following a quick litany of the harm that would be wrought by undoing the ACA, the 'executive' dream act, the middle- and lower class tax breaks:
But the question I think for voters, in addition to what’s going to be good for me and my family tomorrow, is, what’s going to be good for America five years from now or 10 years from now. And if we have not built an education system that works and makes sure that college is affordable, if we have not won the race for future energy technologies, if we’re slashing funding for things like basic research, if we are not rebuilding our infrastructure, then 5, 10 years from now we are going to be a weaker nation. And that has huge consequences.

Now, obviously, if somebody believes that the government has been the problem and will remain the problem, and if we just strip down government to defense spending and Social Security and some watered-down version of Medicare and Medicaid, and we shouldn’t be doing anything else, then obviously Mitt Romney is the candidate. There’s no indication, based on either historical evidence or what’s happening around the world, that that’s the recipe for long-term sustainable economic growth.
One final point, tacking back to the beginning of the interview, in which Obama outlined his plans for creating jobs: the submerged outline of the American Jobs Act is more clearly visible than it is in his usual stump speech. Maybe I've just missed it, but it seems that when Obama talks about investing the money saved by winding down the war in Afghanistan at home, he's got his infrastructure investments in mind:
And finally, using some of the war savings to put people back to work on infrastructure -- roads, bridges. We’ve fallen behind in that area. And we can -- this deferred maintenance, we can put people to work, back, right now, and at the same time make sure that our economy is more competitive over the long term. 

Also from the American Jobs Act, the energy retrofit (which I believe he had focused exclusively on schools):
So that’s sort of a summary of the things I want to accomplish to create jobs and economic growth. Obviously, there are other items on the agenda. We need to get immigration reform done, and I’m fully committed to doing that. I think there’s still more work on the energy efficiency side that we can do -- helping to retrofit our buildings, schools, hospitals, so that they’re energy efficient -- because if we achieved efficiencies at the level of, let’s say, Japan, we could actually cut our power bill by about 20-25 percent, and that would have the added benefit of taking a whole bunch of carbon out of the atmosphere.
I must add, in passing, that on both and he has scaled the outline of his plans down to a really shameful degree. And while I don't expect much from the campaign glossy new booklet, I can't find hide nor hair of it on either site.

This interview, too, is no 'basement tape'; it's another performance. But it offers a more detailed, impassioned and coherent vision for the next four years than any other document I've come across.


  1. Thank you for this; glad President Obama decided to share it with everyone.

    Posted the link at A Plain Blog about Politics

  2. President Obama has once again shown that he is master strategist. He ginned up interest in the interview by requesting it be "off the record." Which led the paper to insist that what he said be "on the record." Now everyone's interest is piqued, so the President releases the FULL transcript, of his words, VERBATIM, UNFILTERED by the media. Now everyone wants to read what the President wanted to keep "off the record" thinking they will find a "gaffe" or something that will sink his candidacy and and instead, will find his positive, thoughtful, and insightful words just as he spoke them. BRILLIANT move by a BRILLIANT President!

  3. I think Rick Green was a total unprofessional hack for doing what he did.

    He screwed up twice: first, he agreed to the off-the-record interview. That was dumb. They’re getting ready to endorse again, and they need fresh, on the record material from both candidates from which to fashion their judgment. They can’t put it together with new quotes and arguments from one candidate--Romney, who did an OnTR ed. board a few weeks ago--and NO quotes or fresh arguments from the other candidate.

    Green should have made that argument to the WH, and stuck by it. Instead, “We relented and took the call. How could we not? It’s the leader of the free world on line one.”
    How could you not? How *could* you, given the editorial necessity of your upcoming endorsement? Idiot.

    THEN, he gets pissy about it, and turns it around and accuses the President of bad judgment! Of doing a “disservice” to the people of Iowa! In public! On a blog!

    I mean, the WH heads must have been spinning. W. T. F! Who does this??

    Who the hell knows what reason the President (or his press office) had for the off the record demand? Maybe he was really tired. Maybe he had made a dozen phone calls in the previous hour and just didn’t want to spin himself up for a polished on the record session.

    Maybe he figured he had earned the right to a little leeway. He would have been wrong, but certainly not out of bounds for making the request.

    But once the request is agreed to, there’s no way any self-respecting editor should have the right to blow that up, by leveraging his own huge public platform to pressure the POTUS into doing what he, the editor, wants him to do.

    As for Obama’s plans... more later.

  4. With the excerpts presented here, I think it's fairly screaming "It's a trap!"

    And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done.

    I've taken to referring to the Republican Voting Coalition as tied into a tight Gordian Knot*, I don't see how they can hold it together in the face of demographic realities - if you pull any thread, it's just going to start unraveling the knot. If you cast off the Joe Arpaio White Republicans to go after a share of the Latino vote, do you see the leaders of that faction quietly accepting "oh well, we lost the issue"?

    Obama will be more than willing to take a win on the issue if Republicans come to the table.. but if they don't? By going off, then back on the record, he's "secretly" (I say deliberately) set the GOP up to have to agree with Obama and deal on the issue, or come off as even more intransigent.

    * - And I'm not certain they can get out of the knot without breaking up the current version of the party that was assembled by Reagan.