Ryan Grim’s piece yesterday on the role the political team in the White House has played in shaping the administration’s policy agenda over the objection of policy experts is pretty startling. It puts together a narrative that explains why the White House continues to eschew emphasizing job creation and stimulus spending, while favoring talk of deficits and cutting entitlements.
There’s clearly and rightly a concern in the White House about winning elections. What is remarkable, though, is the complete lack of recognition that good policies lead to good political results. Further, by pushing good policies and building public support for them, there’s an opening to make them politically even more valuable. That is, the White House has the ability to help make electing candidates that support their agenda easier.
What’s particularly bizarre is how wrong the White House political team is when it comes what the public sentiment is on the economy, jobs, and deficits. Grim notes:
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told the New York Times recently that “it’s my job to report what the public mood is.” The public mood, said Axelrod, is anti-spending and anti-deficit and so the smart politics is to alleviate those concerns. “I’ve made the point that as a matter of policy and a matter of politics that we need to focus on this, and the president certainly agrees with that,” said Axelrod of the deficit hawkery that the administration has engaged in over the last several months.
But the public isn’t primarily concerned about deficits and spending! They’re most concerned about jobs and the economy! The polling is really clear on this and yet it doesn’t seem to penetrate the Beltway Bubble. In one of the most crucial moments of this administration’s political life, they are buying Republican and Blue Dog spin. The result will be conservative policies that present the administration and Democrats as nothing more than Republican Lite. That it is coming from this White House is depressing, but not surprising.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure why leaders of the Democratic Party think having 9.7% unemployment is acceptable or that it’s something that voters will forget when they go to vote in November. Even if the deficit was the top public concern (it isn’t), eliminating it by fiat tomorrow would not change that at least one in ten Americans do not have jobs. Someone who does not have a job isn’t going to have their rent or food bills paid by a lower deficit. Decisions about who to support politically will be made in light of the factors in peoples’ lives, not abstractions that aren’t lived day to day by unemployed or under-employed Americans. It’s hard to believe that the political team at the White House thinks otherwise, but then again, it isn’t.