Obama's Happy Talk Ignores a Grim Reality

Warning: Doom and gloom ahead.

Following the State of the Union, Slate writer John Dickerson made an interesting observation about President Obama’s mood.

President Obama has been more upbeat in 2011 than he said he was going to be. Last year he promised America a tough conversation about cutting the deficit. “If we are concerned about debt and deficits, then we’re going to have to take actions that are difficult and we’re going to have to tell the truth to the American people,” he said. Shrinking government would be his focus for the remainder of his first term, he pledged. Everything else would be secondary, even investments of the kind he is now proposing. They would have to wait until he presented “a credible plan for dealing with the medium- and long-term budget problems.”

That “tough talk” nonsense went straight out the window. Apparently, Obama’s speechwriters are very one-dimensional, they can only do happy and hopeful, not serious and concerned. But this isn’t a romantic comedy, and if it is, it’s a bad one. Things don’t necessarily have to end well. This isn’t an episode of Friends for chrissakes.

But it’s a smart move. While President Obama is out talking about “winning the future” while handing out t-shirts that say “We do Big Things,” Republicans are out there being Grumpy Guses.

Or at least that is the perception. In reality, we’re all about some hope. We hope that we can get the deficit back down to a level where businesses and investors don’t have to sit on edge in fear of a drastic spike in interest rates. It’s a jobs agenda, but it’s a multi-step one. We want to lower spending so we can pay down the deficit to prevent future tax hikes and interest rate rises to enable businesses to get off the sidelines and into the game. Try fitting that on a T-shirt.

By contrast, Obama’s job is much simpler. We just need to invest. One step. Wham-bam, thank you ma’am, be sure to vote in 2012.

It’s a carefully conceived gamble. As Dickerson writes:

The president has decided that he’ll let Republicans be the dour ones. A credible deficit-reduction plan is no longer a precondition for weeks of talk about plans for government investment. Let Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, do all that gloomy talking about the grim fiscal picture. . .

The two parties are making opposite bets about what the public really thinks about the deficit. The president is betting that people don’t see an iron connection between reducing the deficit and increasing the number of jobs. When they judge who is doing more for them—the GOP or the president—they will pick the person optimistic about the future, not the guys preaching pain.

The problem, as Dickerson rightly points out, is that deficits don’t have an immediate job impact. It’s like all the economic fallacies that liberals employ – they come out looking like winners because the time frame is short and the beneficiaries are clear. Take the example of government funding to build a bridge. The government will take the immediate results and say, look at the jobs that were “created or saved” to build this bridge. Conservatives will say, for every dollar that is spent on the bridge a dollar is being taken away from taxpayers, for every job that was created with that dollar a job is being taken away somewhere else. The problem is that the dollar is spread among every taxpayer and the jobs are fractional and spread throughout the economy. So while liberals are pointing on their shiny new bridge and shaking hands with the construction worker to post on the White House blog, conservatives are left pointing at economic formulas.

It’s a losing argument.

The problem is that so long as one party injects politics into the policy, it is likely to stay a losing argument, up until the very moment when the economic house of cards comes crashing down.

Ideally, you’d like to hit the brakes before you hit the wall, but when President Obama keeps telling you that the wall is made of fluffy pillows and if you just step on the gas hard enough you’ll break right through it, it’s tough to get people to pay attention. Unless we wake up and stop smelling Obama’s roses, we’ll all just be crash test dummies.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee

Crossposted: http://speakout.crnc.org/blog/2011/02/15/obamas-happy-talk-will-lead-to-an-unhappy-future/