It's real - and I hope doesn't lead to complacency or excessive caution on the debt. I've repeatedly argued that Obama "needs to embrace Bowles-Simpson, or a variation thereof, and challenge both parties to come to a long-term budget deal he can sign." Bernstein does the political calculus:
If the White House thinks that deficit reduction will help short-term (that is, through November 2012) economic growth, then it's probably better to do that from an electoral point of view even if it will mean adopting unpopular spending cuts or higher taxes. If not, then there's no electoral reason to give anything more than lip service to deficits while putting the real weight of the the presidency behind pro-growth policies.
I backed Obama because he promised to resist the easy political calculus and do the right thing to grapple with our serious problems. If he ducks the debt test in his SOTU, if he fails to offer substantive measures to bring the debt and deficit and spending down now, then, to my mind, he fails a core test of his seriousness as a candidate and his integrity as a president.
Embrace Bowles-Simpson, Mr president. It was your commission. It would drastically change the economic climate, reassure international markets, and save the next generation from a debt burden that is simply immoral. Yes, tax reform can be part of this package, as Bowles-Simpson argued. But if Obama simply grabs tax reform and ignores spending, he will have bungled the key moment for his long-term success.
[Update: Mark Blumenthal has just posted an analysis of the trend. It's not about Tucson, he argues. His uptick is not as sharp as mine, since I removed Rasmussen and increased the sensitivity of the chart.)