Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Harry Truman he is not

Last night's State of the Union was an odd mix.  Clearly the President has decided to tack left to assure his re-election.  At the same time he tried (I believe unsuccessfully) to invoke the 1948 campaign of Harry Truman.

Near the end of his address he used a Lincoln quote that may come back to haunt him.  He said he believed in the sixteenth president's maxim "That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.”

The focus of the whole speech was "fairness."  As the President defined that term he envisaged a much more activist government.   When you poll the American people about the issues of fairness a lot of the responses depend heavily on how the term is discussed.   The State of the Union was announced by the President's handlers as the opening salvo in the 2012 campaign.   It sounded a lot like one.  Obama's tone was more combative than 2008, which I think was a conscious decision.   It may or may not work.

The contrast here will be interesting.  Whoever the GOP nominee is will need to present an alternative message of fairness.  Obama's is based on more government and more income redistribution.   Neither is especially popular at this point.  Were I advising the GOP nominee I would keep bringing up Lincoln's quote and then ask - did more government actually help?  Was the stimulus successful?  Did all those new regulations (show a picture of a year's worth of federal regulations) actually help get things fairer?   Do you really trust the elites (media and government) to solve your problems?  I think the President will have a hard time running on his record.

One other theme which I found odd.  He suggests that the rich should pay more to solve the deficit problem.  Any candidate from the other side would be able to point to the sorry state of European economies (who have relatively high tax regimes) as a response to the goodness of that strategy.

Every election is about the middle 20%.  A lot of where that group will go in the coming election depends on which narrative they choose.  At this point in the campaign, neither story is well cemented.  But based on prior elections the more the President is perceived as veering left, the less successful he is likely to be.  

I fully expect a lot more twists in this story over the next few months.


eveningson said...

I agree that he may not be harry truman. He is not promising cheaper electricity after all nor do I see him running against congress.(this I think is your point). He will run on his own merits which are good despite what you might infer. GOP does not stand a chance here. I have confidence in your 20 per cent.

Dr. Tax in Sacramento said...

I have confidence that the 20% is not committed at this point. But the President is clearly running against congress. One of the major points in the SOTU was either pass bills I want or I will not stand for it.

As to the President's record, my point is that there are two point of view on it. His supporters believe that health care and all the regulation that has been added has been a step forward. National polling on the health care bill suggests that the American voter is not convinced. Ditto on the size of government.

His saving grace will be two things. First, the GOP seems tone deaf on many issues. Second, there is some evidence (the GDP numbers yesterday) that the economy is beginning to pick up steam.

My key point here is that a) there are a lot of turns in this election - it is far from being decided and b) the dems should not get over-confident - that 20% can be nasty.