Obama's Reset and the American Jobs Act

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In a column for the FT I explain why I like the American Jobs Act, and offer the president a bit of advice on how to sell it.

Mr Obama cannot lead effectively unless he is honest with the country about what it will take, when the time is right, to get borrowing under control. He promised to offer such a plan next week, but one wonders how specific it will be. In his speech he mentioned higher taxes on the rich, and the need for spending restraint in Medicare. It will take more than that. If voters suspect him of fudging this crucial issue, they will trust him less on the short-term stimulus.

Another word of advice. Don't let the campaign for this plan become an overt campaign for re-election. It is both, obviously, but be subtle about it. The Democratic world view - trust government to get us out of this mess - is the weakest part of your offering, and the GOP's best point of attack. Ease right back on that. Do what you did last week, only more so: rise above the partisan fight, forcefully defend the specific policies (now that you have some), and tread lightly when it comes to underlying principles.

And try not to think about how much stronger a position you would be in today if you had done that from the start.

Apart from lack of specifics on reining in future borrowing when the economy has strengthened, I also thought it was a mistake for Obama to offer no defense of the first stimulus in his speech. If he leaves mostly unchallenged the view that the first stimulus made things worse, he can hardly expect much support for the second. (I don't think many people are going to be fooled by his avoiding the word "stimulus".)  He needs to explain that, although the first stimulus failed to bring unemployment down as quickly as the administration hoped, this was because the economy was weaker than it realized (a mistake that most other analysts made too). In other words, things would have been even worse without it.

Apologizing for any kind of error is always a difficult thing for a politician to do--but is that line really as complex and hopeless as the White House (usually preferring just to avoid the subject) seems to believe? Have a bit more faith in voters, I say...


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