By Ben Cohen: There are a worrying number of polls that show Republican nominee Mitt Romney being even with the President. In a normal economy, there is no way a candidate as dull as Romney would be anywhere close to Obama, but in today's fiscal mess, the race looks to be about as tight as it could get. There are many, many hurdles Romney has to overcome to beat Obama (I wrote about this last week), but the stuttering economy is a gigantic political gift that could well tip the former governor of Massachusetts over the edge.
Obama has an incredibly tough job ahead, and there is an argument that a good part of it is his own doing. There were many opportunities to do more to aid the economy, particularly early on when Obama had considerable political capital. Instead, he chose to follow the advice of Wall St insiders and allow his policies to reflect the interests of banks rather than the public. He is paying the price now, and it may be too late to reverse the damage done earlier on. Robert Reich wrote a great piece in the Guardian on Obama's need to take lessons from Europe and make drastic economic changes to ensure the government is actively participating in the economy to keep it growing. His four major proposals for Obama were as follows:
First, he should demand that America's big banks modify the mortgages of homeowners still struggling in the wake of Wall Street's housing bubble....
Second, he should stop oil speculators from raising gas prices. Numerous studies are showing that speculation by US index-fund traders is pushing up gas prices by almost $1 a gallon. Wall Street and Big Oil are making lots of money, but average Americans are paying the price.....
Third, the president should make it clear he won't allow government spending cuts to take precedence over job creation. He won't follow Europe into an austerity trap of slower growth and higher unemployment.....
Finally, Obama should make sure Americans understand the link between America's fragile recovery and widening inequality. As long as so much of the nation's disposable income and wealth goes to the top, the vast middle class lacks the purchasing power to fire up the economy.
Reich is of course aware that without Congress, virtually none of the above is possible. The Republicans have successfully hijacked the economy for their own political gain by blocking everything that the Obama administration has tried to do. This puts Obama in an extremely precarious situation should the economy continue to stagnate, so the Democrats need to come up with an airtight campaign game to beat Romney regardless of the state of the economy. Team Obama should operate on the basis that the economy will get worse, and there won't be a huge amount he can do about it, and build a strategy around that.
How do the Democrats do this?
Firstly, they should tell the truth. Obama should remind voters over and over and over again that the Republicans have blocked every single spending package, stimulus measure and jobs program that he has tried to pass. Obama should make the country re-live the debt ceiling crisis, stand under crumbling bridges and in failing schools that could have been fixed with adequate spending, do photo ops with veterans who would suffer under GOP proposed budget cuts, and make sure at every step of the way the public knows that he did everything in his power to get the economy back on track.
Secondly, Obama needs to highlight the beneficial effects of the stimulus package he passed. Most legitimate studies of the stimulus concluded that it had a positive effect on the economy, despite it being far too small to reverse all the damage done by the major implosion. There are thousands of people in nursing, teaching and industry that will support the President's assertion that their jobs were saved because of it. Obama should stand under bridges and in schools that were fixed due to the stimulus, and do photo ops with veterans who were helped by the $1.4 billion distributed to improve their medical and nursing facilities, national cemeteries, provide grants, and improve existing facilities.
Thirdly, Obama should talk about the future and the need to change the way the economy works. A bold plan to ensure better regulation, more economic equality, more investment in schools, infrastructure and the environment will capture the public's imagination and provide a radically different vision to Romney's cut everything at all costs plan for the country. Obama should tell voters that the Republicans are stuck in the past, that they are clinging to outdated economic theories and ideas that have caused massive damage to the country. His plan should do the opposite, and he needs to sell it properly.
The Obama re-election team needs to define the narrative very quickly and very starkly - on the one side is a President committed to progressive economic policies that will help the poor and middle class, and on the other, a business man dedicated to helping the rich keep their money at the expense of everyone else.
If Obama manages to pull through this, it will be a good lesson for his second term. Hopefully the President will go for what he wants in negotiations rather than be intimidated by Republicans into compromising before they actually start. Decisions made early on can have a major impact later and it is worth fighting hard for what will work. Obama spent too much time trying to work with Republicans rather than beating them back politically. Now the election is on, it is time for Obama to turn up the heat.