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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski
Brought to you by RealClearPolitics.
June 11, 2012
1. Not Doing Fine, Economically
2. Not Doing Fine, Politically
3. Events, Dear Boy, Events
4. Around the RealClear Universe
1. Not Doing Fine, Economically

The news cycle over the weekend was dominated by Barack Obama's gaffe in a Friday news
conference, in which hesaid that "the private sector is doing fine."
Let's get to the political implications in the next item. But first: is it true?
James Pethokoukis makes the case that the private sector is not doing fine, describing our
low-growth, high-unemployment recovery—particularly compared to the "supply-side Reagan
Boom." He then argues that "who's really doing fine under Obama" is "big government,"
because while states are cutting their budgets, "federal spending is at record levels."
On the left, though, Obama's defenders have focused on those state and local cutbacks.
"Broadly speaking, [Obama's] analysis is correct. The private sector has been creating jobs
at a steady pace, but the public sector has been shedding them, slowing growth. And there
is no reason why that has to happen. Stabilizing the public sector workforce or, better still,
increasing it would be among the very easiest things for the federal government to do: It can
simply write checks to state and local government, as it did with the Recovery Act and has
traditionally done during times of economic distress. "The point is well taken, though the line
about how the federal government "can simply write checks" seems a bit glib during a time
of trillion-dollar federal deficits, doesn't it?
Others are going even farther in doubling down on Obama's comments. The Washington 
Post's E.J. Dionne advocatesturning this into a broad ideological campaign theme: the
idea that government is good and "government creates jobs."
"Indeed, our unemployment rate is higher today than it should be because conservatives
blocked additional federal spending to prevent layoffs by state and local governments—and
 because progressives, including Obama, took too long to propose more federal help.
Obama's jobs program would be a step in the right direction, and he's right to tout it now.
But he should have pushed for a bigger stimulus from the beginning. The anti-government
disposition has so much power that Democrats and moderate Republicans allowed
themselves to be intimidated into keeping it too small."Juan Williams speculates that
Obama can use this to resurrect Harry Truman's 1948 strategy of campaigning against
a Republican Congress.
"Why is unemployment still so high? A big part of the reason is that public sector jobs
are continually being lost at the federal, state, and local level."Government payrolls dropped
by 13,000 in May. By contrast, the private sector added 82,000 jobs. Yet the GOP
Congress refuses to invest in public sector spending to steady the fragile economy....
"The facts are there to build an argument. But is it enough for President Obama to stage
a revival of the 1948 campaign, when the Democrat incumbent won reelection by attacking
a do-nothing Congress?"
And that brings us back to the politics of the gaffe.
2. Not Doing Fine, Politically

While some of the folks above are trying to convince the Obama campaign to turn a gaffe
into a campaign theme, a line from RCP's Alexis Simendinger sums up the general
reaction to the "doing fine" press conference: "Politically, Obama has somehow dropped
his tuning fork."
The National Republican Committee pounced by re-shooting, frame for frame, a 2008
Obama ad attacking John McCain for a similar statement. This is the kind of payback
that political operatives dream of.
Other observers took Obama's underlying point, about increasing funding to employ
state-government workers, and contrasted it to the political trend in recent election
contests. Walter Russell Mead notes that voters under the age of 25 broke for Scott
Walker in Wisconsin, which he interprets as an indication that they see generous benefits
for public employees as coming out of their futures.
Michael Barone notes that in addition to Walker's victory in Wisconsin, Republicans have
been doing unexpectedly well in a Democratic bastion, California.
Mona Charen argue that Obama's call for boosting state and local governments goes, not
just against the Wisconsin results, but against a larger wave of state-government reform,
particularly among the Republican governors and state legislators swept into office in 2010.
"[W]e are now in an era of true Republican reform. The reformers are Republican governors
who, like Scott Walker, have chosen to tackle the bloated budgets and corrupt bargains of
state governments. At least a half dozen Republican governors -- Bobby Jindal in Louisiana,
Chris Christie in New Jersey, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Susana Martinez in New Mexico,
Bob McDonnell in Virginia, and Walker himself -- have taken on the public sector unions
 frontally...."Scott Walker is in good company. He and his fellow reform Republicans are the
 vanguard of a refreshed and confident Republican Party. It's a party that, unlike the
 Democrats, is confronting the looming threat of government debt. That is what the tea
partyers have been demanding. All of the Republican reformers are popular. Who knows—
if this continues, we may even escape bankruptcy."
John Ellis uses a similar observation to offer Obama some different campaign advice. He
identifies a narrow slice of white swing voters who are likely to decide the election, and he
advises the Obama campaign to offer them a "framed choice."
"The framed choice for the white voters who will decide this election is this: Who do you
think will better protect the interests of working-class and middle-class families when the
inevitable cuts [to middle-class entitlements] are packaged? Who do you want negotiating
for you when it comes down to who gets hurt and who doesn't? Do you really want Mitt
Romney and a bunch of right-wing congressmen making these decisions? Only a Democrat
can be trusted to properly right-size the great Democratic social welfare programs."The
only problem is that this is precisely the kind of reform that Obama has refused to embrace
in his clashes with congressional Republicans over the budget. Offering my own two cents,
argue that this is why Wisconsin tells us something important about the vote in November.
"[A] large segment of the political center has decided that runaway government spending and
debt is the crucial problem of the day and that it has to be reined in, and they are willing to
support any political leader who attempts to do so...."You tell me if Barack Obama qualifies.
And since he doesn't, that is why the result in Wisconsin is very bad news for his re-election
If Mona Charen and I are right, what this recent gaffe shows is that Obama is swimming against
the popular tide in favor of small-government reform.
3. Events, Dear Boy, Events

According to legend, when British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked by a young
reporter what he feared most politically, he replied, "Events, dear boy, events." Barack Obama
might give the same reply today. Events that are beyond his control could determine his political fate.
Niall Ferguson speculates that
"the possibility is now very real that a double-dip recession in Europe could kill off hopes of a
sustained recovery in the United States. As the president showed in his anxious press
conference last Friday, he well understands the danger emanating from across the pond. Slower
growth and higher unemployment can only hurt his chances in an already very tight race with Mitt
Romney."Or as Dana Milbank puts it.
"Some think that Ohio will decide the presidential election. Others are watching Florida or North
Carolina or Wisconsin."But if you really want to know who will win the White House in November,
you should ask the Europeans. They aren't eligible to vote, but they may well cast the deciding
ballot—and for President Obama, it's looking grim."
So this election has just added four new swing states: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain.
4. Around the RealClear Universe

There's much more on the main page at RealClearPolitics, and here are some highlights and
sidelights from around the RealClear universe.
As you can imagine, there is lot more coverage of the European crisis over at RealClearMarkets.
There are links to ananalysis of the Spanish bank rescue and the threat of "zombie banks"—the
 financial version of World War Z. Another proposed solution is an interesting form of historical
payback: a German Marshall Plan for Europe. Finally, RealClearMarkets links to an overview of
the lessons of the "Ruble zone" collapse.
Troubles never come singly, and while President Obama faces criticism on the economy at home, RealClearWorldlinks to a wave of foreign policy criticisms, mostly coming from Obama's left. Nicholas
Kristof criticizes the president's inaction on Syria, describing his journey "from Peace Prize to paralysis."
 And while recent press reports have tried to highlight Obama's tough actions against al-Qaeda and
Iran, others are criticizing U.S. policy on precisely those two issues: drones and cyberwar.
Speaking of Obama critics, RealClearHistory links to an article by unsympathetic Obama biographer
Ed Klein, in which he interviews prominent academic historians who supposedly have become
disillusioned with Obama's leadership.
On the other hand, RealClearBooks links to Andrew Ferguson's takedown of Klein's biography,
which he criticizes for its exaggerated hostility. Ferguson is no admirer of Obama, either, and he
also reviews David Maraniss's biography, pointing out how some of the "composite characters" in
Obama's own autobiography—characters who are supposed to have had important roles in the
young Obama's epiphanies about life—have no clear real-life basis, raising the suspicion that
"Obama wasn't just inventing himself; he was inventing himself inventing himself."
RealClearReligion links to a Mormon blogger who notes the peculiar rules concerning public
treatment of religion, in which it is not considered proper to ask individual adherents to defend
 the details of their religion's theology. He then argues that this should hold for Mormons, too.
"Presidents and public figures have come and gone for decades without ever being required to
explain theology or church history or unusual beliefs or idiosyncrasies."So the question is: Why
must Mitt Romney? And the answer we often receive is that Mormonism is new, it's unfamiliar,
so if we're going to vote for this man, his religion must be vetted along with everything else in his
life. The answer is flawed because it assumes that only Mormonism–the unfamiliar faith–is weird.
This is demonstrably untrue. There are numerous doctrines in Barack Obama's Christianity,
George W. Bush's Episcopalian belief, and Bill Clinton's Southern Baptist faith (and etc.) that
would be hard to defend in secular conversation in the public square."
RealClearScience links to an amusing article by a science fiction film critic who describes how
 he learned to stop worrying about scientific accuracy in movies and just enjoy the story. There
 is also a link to an article on how just thinking about wine can help you relax. I'm relaxing right now.
—Robert Tracinski