Monday, August 30, 2010

Recognizing that they haven't asked and that Obama's interests may well diverge from that of the generic Democrat officeholder, here's what I would advise Obama and the Democrats to do over the next two months...

First, don't count on any substantive improvement in the economy. Given how low consumer and business confidence is right now, there isn't going to be any boost in hiring, lending or spending. And without a boost in one or more of those, there isn't going to be a drop in the unemployment rate or an improvement in any of the key indicators people use as a benchmark for economic growth.

And there isn't anything Obama and the Democrats could do right now that would stimulate business activity or consumer confidence. Given how negative the public views Obama, his announcing a new policy or program would probably be viewed as just another anti-business, anti-growth initiative... and even if it weren't viewed as such (for instance, if he was to propose keeping the Bush tax cuts in full), coming so close to the election, a good number of people would discount it as pre-election posturing and not indicative of a real change in direction.

And Obama isn't going to find much relief on non-economic grounds. Even if he were to bring peace to the world or if American troops found and killed Bin Laden (no trial) or if some natural disaster hit and he handled it relatively competently, this election is definitely about the economy and Obama's handling of it.

In other words, Obama has to play with the cards he has.

So what can he do?

He can try to motivate the loony left to come out in great numbers... but that is going to be hard to do for while they'd prefer the Democrats to stay in control, they know that the most the GOP can hope to do is block some of Obama's initiatives, they aren't going to be able to roll anything back, and that makes the loony left much less concerned than if they thought they ran a risk of losing the White House.

He can try to de-motivate the conservatives, to keep them from showing up. Yeah, I know that won't work, as they are extremely motivated to vote against everything Democratic, but he could try.

Which leaves him trying to woo the mushy middle (as is always the case, elections are won or lost in the middle). And since the mushy middle isn't too fond of what he's done, he could try to make it less about him and more about something they think of as worse (the 'I suck, but the other guy sucks worse' approach to winning elections).

And this seems to be what he is doing, what with his 'the other guy drove the car into the ditch' lines over the past weeks and months. The problem is that, even if it were true, the public isn't too happy with the way he's tried to get the car out of the ditch. They don't buy his (recent) arguments that it was always going to take a long time to get things moving again. They don't think his policies are working, they see the car as remaining stuck. They've seen him focused on things other than getting the car out of the ditch.

ASIDE: a boss once told me that I was welcome to fix a given problem anyway I wanted... but if the problem wasn't fixed, I better have given it all my effort and, most importantly, tried to fix it the way the boss would have tried to fix it. I think the same thing holds true: the public was willing to give Obama some flexibility, but they not only don't think his way is working, they don't think he's given it all of his time and attention and their ideas for fixing the economy aren't the ones Obama is trying (they prefer less spending and more tax cuts, he is trying the exact opposite).

And the public is frustrated enough that they're not as unwilling to listen to the guys who were fired not too long ago, all of which makes it hard for Obama to make the case that as bad as it is with him, the GOP would be worse.

So what can he do?

I got nothing.