What Obama Should Say on Thursday

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I offer the president a little advice in a new FT column.

He needs to be bold - but not in the way his party would like. He should propose a strong new stimulus, more ambitious than the measures mooted so far. At the same time, with new and equal emphasis, he should call for strong fiscal restraint in the longer term. This means tax increases for the middle class as well as the rich, and cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The president, finally, must spell this out.

Strange, isn't it, that so few people seem to be in favor of stimulus now, restraint later--as though this recommendation was terrifically complicated or controversial. Yet here we are, deadlocked, while the argument rages between those who call for further stimulus (and let's discuss the longer term when we get there), and those who call for spending cuts now, now, now.

 

In the column I also say this:

He cannot restore his authority just by talking tough. He also needs to say the right things. Elections have consequences, the Democrats said after 2008. Indeed they do. In 2010 the party was routed, and the president's ratings have fallen since then. Was this because the Democrats were too gentle and accommodating? Only a fantasist could think so.

If Mr Obama does what many in his party advise - stop giving way and advance an unflinching progressive programme - the GOP will finish the job in 2012. Republicans pray (literally, I expect) for Mr Obama to show more spine on behalf of an uncompromising liberal agenda. That would give them undivided control of House, Senate and White House next year.

For an instance of the fantasy-analysis I had in mind, consider this: Matt Stoller, calling for a Democratic primary challenge, devotes fewer than 100 words out of 1500 to why Obama has failed. Here they are:

[His] failures have come precisely because Obama has not listened to Democratic Party voters. He continued idiotic wars, bailed out banks, ignored luminaries like Paul Krugman, and generally did whatever he could to repudiate the New Deal. The Democratic Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures. Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.

Reverting to form? Would that mean listening to progressive voters the way, say, Bill Clinton did?

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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