In his latest column for National Journal, Ronald Brownstein argues that President Obama and his team of White House advisers have shown less discipline than their Republican adversaries in the battle to frame economic policies, and, specifically, how to deal with Wall Street reforms as the Senate takes up its next big effort: financial regulation.
The Republicans' "narrative" about Obama's economic agenda--articulated again in Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's attack on financial reform--has been straightforward and unrelenting. In their telling, Obama is transforming the United States into a sclerotic European social-welfare state; forcing the strained middle class to fund both a "crony capitalism" of bailouts for the powerful (the charge McConnell leveled against the financial bill) and handouts for the poor (through health care reform); and impeding recovery by smothering the economy beneath stultifying federal spending, taxes, and regulation...When Obama first arrived, he often arraigned his predecessor's record. The first chapter of Obama's initial budget document was "Inheriting a Legacy of Misplaced Priorities." Obama still delivers some similar jabs. But more often, he diffuses blame for the downturn across "a perfect storm of irresponsibility ... that stretched from Wall Street to Washington to Main Street." Obama, at other points, has emphasized his continuity with Bush's approach, particularly on financial bailouts. (Liberal critics such as Reich believe that link extends beyond rhetoric to policy.) The result is that Obama has mostly shelved what political scientist Stephen Skowronek of Yale University calls "the authority to repudiate." That's the effort, employed by consequential presidents, such as Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, to build support by portraying their agenda as the remedy for their predecessors' failures.