Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Obama could win the economy argument

My column in the Sky News today:

Is Mitt Romney a sheep in wolf's clothing or putting on an act that he is wolf in sheep's clothing?

Is he looking like a serious conservative or will he govern as an extreme conservative in spite of his supposed inner moderate self? Or is he like a Navajo shape-shifter, taking on the animal form that gets him the most visibility?

Now that the primaries are over, he will have to look more sheep-like to appeal to the swing voter moderates.

Obama's positions on women's rights and a kinder approach to immigration issues have helped his poll numbers. However, he is tied with Romney on the economy. He needs to do more.

A case Obama has not yet made: We do not need to trade away fair social policies for bad economic policies proposed by the GOP. He has a better, fairer plan for both. To make such a case, Obama does not need to be a shape shifter because he is consistent with his past policy priorities, but he also must attack Romney's plans more effectively than he has.

There are those who believe Romney had been appearing as a wolf on social and economic issues to get the support of his party's far right, but he is really a sheep inside that would govern as a moderate once he got elected. Obama can make the point they are fooling themselves. The pressure on Romney from the ultra conservatives dominating the GOP and Congress would make a second term improbable if he flip-flops on tax, health care, immigration and women's issues.

Romney‘s way out of this schizophrenic dilemma to appeal to moderates has been to make the conversation only about the economy, while hoping they forget the bargain he made to with the GOP right wing to support them on social issues. Simultaneously he claims his plan to decrease taxes on the rich and to increase military spending while slashing and burning discretionary programs that benefit the middle class, will be the better route to economic prosperity.

The route Romney has irrevocably tied himself to is the closest version of a European austerity program that exists in the US: the Ryan budget. Even the Catholic bishops opined that the Ryan budget "fails to meet the moral criteria" (to protect the poor) because it takes money away from the safety net. One phrase will come back to haunt him: He called that plan “marvelous” because it would reduce the deficit and create jobs.

This last weekend Obama began to make that case that his plans for the economy would better for America in the future although we may not have climbed out of the economic hole left by the GOP as quickly as we want. So far Obama has relied on reminding us that Romney's sole reliance on budget cuts /pump up the rich plan was a throwback to the policies that never dug us out of the holes in the past, so how could it be better?

That argument is not strong enough: Obama needs to take his attacks to the another level, arguing Romney's plan could even make the economy and debt worse, linking GOP plans to the extreme approach in Europe that led to the rejection of austerity by voters this past week in France and the experience of austerity in the United Kingdom. Obama could now argue that too much reliance on austerity there has led to stagnant growth or a double dip recession, job loss, and higher debt. Those are exactly the opposite results for which the GOP hopes and the Democrats have achieved in part.

The president's moderate, middle way, combining budget cuts, fiscal, tax, and income stimulants, has resulted in GDP growth, steady private sector job creation, and unemployment decreasing significantly. His balanced approach, similar to the Simpson Bowles recommendations, will also improve the debt situation.

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