The president aims to win the fiscal-cliff debate the same he won the election -- barnstorming through battleground states and email-blasting supporters.
Already, it feels like he's back on the trail. Just a month after the election, as the fiscal cliff approaches, President Obama has held just one meeting at the White House with Speaker John Boehner in the last three weeks, yet has taken the time to go to Pennsylvania and Virginia and chat with suburbanites and business owners. From the outside, he's building the consensus that he's looking for in Washington.
On Thursday, he held a photo op with a teacher's family at her apartment in suburban Virginia, telling a small camera crew about the importance of extending the current tax rate for a family's first $250,000 of earned income and raising the rate for incomes above that. A week earlier he spoke, jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up, before 350 people on a toy-factory floor in Pennsylvania, telling the self-described middle-class Americans to call on Congress to prevent a middle-class tax hike. Republicans and Democrats "already all agree, we say, on making sure middle-class taxes don't go up," he said, "so let's get that done." He told cameras and the crowd to write and call members of Congress and to post on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #My2k ($2,000 is the estimated size of the tax hike on a middle-class family's income if the tax provisions are all allowed to expire). And then to back it all up, on Monday afternoon he spent a little less than an hour answering questions on Twitter about the subject. He took eight questions in all, though one was about the Chicago Bears.
The confines of 140 characters are tight, and it was hard to discuss nuanced fiscal policy in those limits. That wasn't really the point of the exercise, though. Obama didn't want to convince opponents he was right; he wanted his supporters to agree with him. He wanted to release some talking points into the echo chamber of the Internet and have them bounce around for a while. He wanted to trend.
This isn't the first time the president has reached out to the American people -- or turned to Twitter -- to affect public policy. During a political fight in April to extend student-loan rates, the president told an audience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "Call your member of Congress. Email them. Write on their Facebook page. Tweet them -- we've got a hashtag ... #dontdoublemyrate." And about this time last year, as Congress was debating whether or not to extend the Payroll Tax Cut, the White House rolled out the hashtag #40dollars -- the estimated cost per paycheck on a $50,000 salary if the tax cut were to end.
Back then he got some flak for trying to politicize policy debates and for using tax dollars to travel to contested states and campaign against a do-nothing Congress. But that would seem like an odd criticism now. After all, 51 percent of the country just voted for Barack Obama to lead the country, not Mitt Romney. The election is over.
Obama didn't want to convince opponents he was right. He wanted to let some talking points bounce around the echo chamber of the Internet for a while. He wanted to trend.