Money Ain’t a Thang

Agreed with this post from Krugman yesterday:

What should that story be? Obama defenders do in fact have a clear story, which goes like this: he was confronted both with a very bad economy and with complete political obstruction — which mattered, by the way, even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, because of the filibuster. So he did what he could, via stimulus and other policies, and pulled the economy back from the brink. If he hasn’t done more, well, maybe he could have gotten a somewhat bigger stimulus, maybe he could have done more on housing relief, but on the whole he did pretty well given the political environment.

Let’s not get into the question of whether he could, in fact, have done considerably more. The point for now is that this is not the story the administration has been telling, at any point. First they insisted that the clearly inadequate stimulus was just right; then they have tried various anodyne slogans nobody remembers, all of which seem to imply that we’re doing just fine.

Presumably this reflects the judgment of the political team, which apparently believes that pointing out obstruction conveys an impression of weakness, and that happy talk is better than a Trumanesque campaign of hammering the do-nothing Republicans in Congress. But I have seen nothing these past three years suggesting that the political team has any idea how to play this game — and the happy talk leaves them completely flatfooted every time the economy underperforms.

For the past few months there has been an evident drift into complacency, a belief that a string of good jobs numbers will validate the happy talk. That’s a bet that can easily lose Obama the election.

Jon Chait has a response to it (via), which I found reasonable and unpersuasive. Not saying that Obama has to go all Truman on ’em, but I think he will suffer from not framing the debate in a more effective way.

‘Cuz as I see it, he’s gotta maintain that things are definitely still totally getting better and doing so right quick (uh….) or admit that they originally misunderestimated the depth of the crisis (they did), so the stimulus was less than they needed. I can understand why the administration is reluctant to cop this miscalculation (flip-flopping! Kenyan incompetence!) but unless they do so, they’re left looking as if the stimulus was everything they wanted.

And they argued at the time that the stimulus was pretty much the wee bear’s bowl of porridge, so Obama can’t very well start claiming that he wanted a bigger stimulus now. Which is basically Krugman’s point. Chait’s a good rejoinder to the firebagger-types and emoprogs who get frustrated too easily with the Preznit. But I think he’s wrong on this one.

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