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“Leaving Republicans Even Deeper In The Trap”: Obama Didn’t Give Republicans The Speech They Wanted

My initial impressions of the State of the Union Address and Joni Ernst’s official GOP Response were posted last night beginning a bit before the 9:00 EST start time, if you’re interested. The next day I continue to be impressed with Obama’s success in wrong-footing Republicans with this speech, changing what could have been a nasty scene of GOP triumphalism over a president begging for “relevance” into an occasion when they looked to be bystanders.

That’s the topic of my TPMCafe column on the speech, which was written late in the night. But I’d say my impressions were best confirmed by the day-after reactions of the conservative commentariat, which in a word are petulant. A case in point is from Byron York, who generally tries to act like a reporter, not a pure partisan pundit. But his Washington Examiner column today is a long whine:

Perhaps the most striking thing about the 2015 State of the Union address was not the president at the podium but the audience in the seats. The joint session of Congress listening to President Obama Tuesday night included 83 fewer Democrats than the group that heard Obama’s first address in 2009 — 69 fewer Democrats in the House and 14 fewer in the Senate. The scene in the House Chamber was a graphic reminder of the terrible toll the Obama years have taken on Capitol Hill Democrats.

Not that the president would ever acknowledge that. Indeed, in more than an hour of speaking, Obama never once acknowledged that there was a big election in November and that the leadership of the Senate has changed. Obama’s silence on that political reality stood in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address, in which he graciously and at some length acknowledged the Democrats’ victory in the 2006 midterms. Bush said it was an honor to address Nancy Pelosi as “Madam Speaker.” He spoke of the pride Pelosi’s late father would have felt to see his daughter lead the House. “I congratulate the new Democrat majority,” Bush said. “Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities.”

If one cannot imagine Obama saying such a thing — well, he didn’t.

Aside from the hilarious implied suggestion here that Obama should have done some sort of “gracious” shout-out to Mitch McConnell, the man more responsible than any other for the obstructionist tactics of the GOP from the day Obama would first elected, York is reflecting the apparent anticipation of conservatives that Obama would crawl to the podium for this speech and spend an hour or so of national television time identifying issues on which the two parties could achieve “common ground,” which GOPers could then deride as too little and too late. And that’s why they are particularly infuriated by his apparent ad lib (though I thought it looked more like a planned trap given the predictable Republican applause at his remarks that his own elections were in the rear-view mirror) reminder that he’s been elected twice.

In conservative-land, you see, Obama’s first election was a fluke and his second a calamitous accident, both canceled by the ensuring midterms and both destined to be remembered as incidental interruptions of the Long March of Movement Conservatism towards total power. The idea that 2008 and 2012 are just as significant as 2010 and 2014 (maybe a bit more significant insofar as far more Americans participated) is outrageous to the Right, and so Obama mentioning them was the defiant act of a political nonentity.

Beyond that, the basic framing of Obama’s remarks on the economy left Republicans even deeper in the trap they’ve been in ever since conditions began improving. The main criticism available to them for the performance of the economy is the one Democrats (and Obama himself) have been articulated: sluggish wage growth and growing inequality. But Republicans have little or no agenda to deal with that beyond the usual engorge-the-job-creators stuff dressed up with attacks on the few corporate welfare accounts they’ve agreed to oppose, and then the Keystone XL Pipeline. On this last point, Obama was very clever in dismissing Keystone as one controversial infrastructure project we’re spending too much time fighting over as hundreds of others languish. It made Joni Ernst’s plodding Official Response sound all the more foolish for spending so much time on that one project.

The underlying reality was nicely captured by TNR”s Brian Beutler:

If Mitt Romney had won the presidency in 2012 and caught the wave of economic growth we’re now experiencing—after cutting both income taxes and domestic spending, and eliminating the Affordable Care Act—conservatives would have draped him in Reagan’s cloak, and the public would have warmed once again to the kinds of policies that George W. Bush’s presidency briefly discredited.

Or as Ezra Klein put it:

Imagine if Mitt Romney was giving the State of the Union address amidst these economic numbers. The cheering wouldn’t stop long enough to let him speak.

No wonder Republicans are still sore about 2012, and can’t decide whether to regard Mitt as the Great President Who Should Have Been or the bozo who couldn’t seal the deal.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 23, 2015

January 24, 2015 Posted by | Economy, GOP, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s More Than Romney Promised”: What Would Republicans Say If Mitt Romney Were President And The Economy Was This Strong?

Imagine if Mitt Romney were president right now.

Imagine if, 722 days after winning the election, President Romney were presiding over an economy growing at five percent a year, an unemployment rate dipping beneath six percent, and gasoline that was less than $2-a-gallon.

This is, after all, what Romney promised. Hell, it’s more than Romney promised.

“I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to six percent, and perhaps a little lower,” he told Time during the campaign. December’s tumble to 5.6 percent unemployment is, thus, two years ahead of schedule.

As for the five percent growth rate and the sub-$2 gas — that’s more than Romney dared ask the electorate to expect. Tim Pawlenty — remember him? — promised to nudge growth to five percent and was roundly mocked for his troubles. And to find anyone promising $2-a-gallon gas, you need to dig up Michelle Bachmann’s campaign lit (even Newt Gingrich didn’t dare predict gas under $2.50, and he wanted to use space mirrors to light highways).

If Mitt Romney were president right now, he would be seen as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. There would be parades in the streets. The kids would have “severely conservative” tattoos. Men would be saying “gosh.”

This is the problem with how Washington — Democrats and Republicans alike — interpret economic news. If Mitt Romney was president right now the economic numbers would be seen as proof that he was a remarkable success. They would appear to show that his agenda — repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes, deregulating the economy, greenlighting the Keystone XL pipeline — was precisely what had been needed to unleash the awesome growth engine that is the American economy. Conservatism would be ascendant. Liberalism would be discredited.

But Barack Obama won the election. The Affordable Care Act hasn’t been repealed. Taxes were raised in 2013. Regulation has proceeded apace. The Keystone XL pipeline is no closer to being built. And yet the economy is roaring. The ambitious economic promises the GOP field made for their conservative policies have been achieved despite the continuation of liberal policies.

There is an easy liberal interpretation here: President Barack Obama is great. Liberalism is great. And it’s simply entrenched media narratives and the GOP’s relentless resistance to giving Obama credit for anything that has left his approval rating stuck at 44 percent.

But I come not to praise President Obama. I come to bury the lazy economic thinking that infects American politics and, particularly, political campaigns.

Washington tends to think of itself as the cause and everything that subsequently happens in the world as the result. A booming economy is proof that Bill Clinton is a genius, or that Ronald Reagan is a genius. A crappy economy is proof that Barack Obama is a naif, or that George H. W. Bush can’t govern. It’s a view of causality usually found in five-year-olds, but it is pervasive in American politics. It is also false.

Policy matters, of course. And, particularly in 2008, 2009, and 2010, it was, arguably, the driver of our economic fortunes. But, for the most part, the economy is driven by much beyond what happens in the White House and the Congress (caveat: the Federal Reserve is an immensely powerful actor, but come campaign time, politicians tend to pretend it doesn’t exist).

It’ll be some time yet before we know whether the economy is truly beginning to roar or the engine is about to sputter out. But the $2 gas that’s left economists so optimistic isn’t the fault of anyone in Washington; it’s a mixture of technological innovation leading to more supply, falling global demand leading to yet lower prices for that supply, and Saudi Arabia refusing to slow production because it wants to choke America’s nascent shale-gas industry (Brad Plumer has an excellent look at the causes behind the cheap gas here).

The reasons unemployment has fallen below six percent are varied, and some of them are problematic (like the reduction in labor-force participation). Government policy has played a role, and my read of the evidence is that premature austerity, particularly at the state and local government level, did a lot to slow the recovery. Nevertheless, anyone suggesting that the job gains over the last two years are the clear result of anything Congress did, or didn’t do, is fooling themselves.

It’s an unhappy fact of political life that the direction of the economy tends to decide elections even though it isn’t actually driven by political decisions. Politicians tend to get around that by pretending otherwise: they take more credit than they deserve when the labor market is doing well, and they receive more blame than they deserve when it’s flagging.

By the normal rules of politics — the rules we would be playing under if Mitt Romney had won the election — the recent economic news proves Barack Obama is a magnificent leader and liberal policies an economic boon. But the normal rules of politics, at least when it comes to interpreting the economy, are dumb.


By: Ezra Klein, Vox, January 12, 2015

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Economy, GOP, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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