First the positive side about President Obama's speech today:
- It was great candor by Obama to say that Foreign Policy or Social Issues, those will not matter that much but what matter will be American Economy in coming election. Excellent that he is willing to fight this election on 'substance' rather than flimsy issues.
- His basic case against Romney and GOP is right - that they will be enacting same policies, probably on steroid, to take us more in the ditch. He must stick to the argument that GOP reluctance to raise taxes on rich stymied any efforts to move reform through Congress and GOP will double down on tax cuts for rich.
But this is still not enough. For two reasons:
- As like Obama candidly admitted, but for a political punch, that GOP is not specifying what entitlements they want to cut; he himself is doing the same. That is why Dana Milbank is right.
- Secondly, he fails to articulate how he would be able to overcome the 'gridlock' in Congress which has pulled down USA. That is what Matt Yeglesias rightly points out.
As Milbank says, unless Obama gives up the fear of loosing this election and daringly proposes concrete principles for entitlement cut (as like how he concretely says Bush Tax Cuts for income above $250K should expire); there is no leadership. Think of this way, even after Obama reelection it will not be easy for him to do any entitlement reforms. Unless he has effectively campaigned for such cut, got votes and then enters 113th Congress with 'a mandate to reform entitlements'; he will not be successful. At that point Obama's two term would not matter at all.
Finally, as this campaign heats up; public assessment of an ability of a president to break the Congressional 'grid-lock' would matter and it will become a significant issue. Already 'smart money' and many on Wall Street are saying that Obama may be fine, but he will not be able to get anything done from Congress; so why waste your vote on him? At the same time there are Indies who would prefer 'grid lock' least because a Dem majority would drive another of ObamaCare. That is the paradox both of these candidates have to solve, more so for Obama - how do you argue for 'grid lock breaking' ability. For Obama it is imperative because for him, constraints on his success in the first term can only be explained by pointing out obstacles GOP raised (which is a fact).
Obama can argue that to break the Congressional Gridlock he needs 'parliamentary majority'. But then how do you guarantee that there will not be more of ObamaCare - legislation with no bipartisan support? People are scared of that and they do not want that. (For sure, same for GOP super majority too and that is what could be the single most potent reason why in the end people may opt for Democratic White House but GOP dominated Congress.) The only way my mind can think here is the way they do in parliamentary system - party manifesto and a compact with voters that you would stick with that manifesto. Clearly as Milbank says, in terms of details, Obama is no where near to that. In the name of 'bipartisanship' American Politicians are habituated to be irresponsible in not telling what would they do if they get majority. That is the mold Obama has to break successfully and convince Americans to trust him again.
He is no way near to that, thought the speech is the first step in that direction.