Monday, June 20, 2011

The President as Pinata

The tone of the 2012 presidential campaign is reflected in that Volkswagen commercial showing an auto-shaped piñata being whacked at a kid’s birthday party.

How this image sells the idea of an indestructible car is not clear, but judging from last week’s GOP debate and subsequent stumping, such flailing at everything Obama is the Republican strategy for selling themselves into the White House next year.

The biggest stick for beating up on the President is the economy. A party communiqué says flatly about the White House and Congressional Democrats: “They own it.”

Yet the New York Times' John Harwood reports: “Mr. Obama’s policies, for better or worse, have something to do with current employment levels and growth rates. But economic advisers to Republican politicians concede that most of the distress Americans feel now stems from the recession and financial crisis he inherited.

“Glenn Hubbard...who led the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, criticized Mr. Obama’s spending, tax and regulatory strategies for ‘actively’ retarding the recovery. Yet he added, ‘There could have been policies that made a difference--but not a sea change.’

"Mark Zandi...who advised Mr. Obama’s 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, went further. Had he been elected president, Mr. McCain’s near-term policy choices would have largely overlapped with Mr. Obama’s, he said--and the differences would have had only marginal effects by now.”

That’s the reality, but in the battle of sound bites and slogans, will that make a difference to worried voters? For some time now, Democrats have been running on “It could have been worse,” not the catchiest phrase for buttons and banners.

As the Obama campaign gears up, one of its main aims will be to stop Republicans from piling on the President without offering viable economic solutions of their own.

“There seemed to be a unanimity of antipathy toward the president,” says David Axelrod, who recently left the White House to work on the re-election campaign, summing up the GOP debate: “I didn’t hear a lot of ideas,” only “a lot of pat partisan platitudes.”

The Democratic challenge will be to remind voters that their opponents are not bring any candy of their own to the party, only hoping to break some out of the Presidential piñata.

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