Speaking from the Rose Garden earlier this week to unveil the details of his deficit reduction plan, President Obama, who likes to say that the current debate is not political, upped the ante on congressional Republicans determined to see his economic policies fail and instilled a sliver of hope among his Democratic base. Listening to this feistier and surprisingly more partisan Obama, many analysts came to the same conclusion: the president is now in full campaign mode.
Robert Smith, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, agrees. Both the president and House Speaker John Boehner have drawn diametrically opposed lines in the sand about their expectations, making the already challenging task of the deficit supercommittee charged with making more than $1.2 trillion in spending cuts even more difficult.
“Obama might get some things in his proposal, like the payroll tax holiday and tax cuts for small businesses, but not much else,” Smith said. “So hereafter, much of what he does and says and how he says it is all about laying the groundwork for the election and the Republicans are doing the same thing.”
Moving forward, Smith predicts, the nation will see less and less of the conciliator-in-chief who tries to bridge differences with Republicans, who have refused to compromise. Instead, he will continue to make his case to the American public to highlight the differences and rally the Democratic base and independent voters.
“He has laid out a fairly good policy agenda in terms of dealing with the deficit, but also a political agenda that most Democrats can rally around and be enthusiastic and he’s not giving away anything,” said Smith. “The country will have to decide which [argument] is better.”
If the latest polls are any indication, Americans are siding with Obama. A Gallup poll released Sept. 20 found that 70 percent approve of closing corporate tax loopholes and 66 percent approve of raising taxes on top earners. Smith says that the use of billionaire Warren Buffett and his higher-tax-paying secretary is an extremely effective way of illustrating the fundamental unfairness of the tax system, particularly when so many ordinary Americans, a significant portion of whom once thrived, are now struggling.
“If Obama had laid out a grand bargain with the speaker, he’d be in much greater trouble in terms of the election. Now he’s putting himself on a platform on which most of his party can stand with him,” Smith said. “He had been losing support for the past several months but is recovering and is in a sense appealing to the party.
(Photo: AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque)