Remember back in March, when the White House made the fairly audacious move of hiring one of the world's leading visual communicators, Edward Tufte, to come up with creative ways to show how the economic stimulus package improved the economy? There is probably no one on earth who can figure out how to convince people to change their behavior and perspective based on the visual manipulation of raw data. And Tufte has a reputation for honesty and integrity: he wasn't going to gussie up anything ... he calls it "ornamentalizing."
It's no secret that the administration is having a hard time convincing voters that caulking a few thousand homes represents something they ought to savor in the economy. It's almost as if, as voters ignore their arguments about the stimulus, the administration makes more of them. Tweaking the message just slightly ... maybe one more focus group ... one more Joel Benenson sample will do it. Actually, that's unfair. Although there is arrogance in the West Wing, there is also a sense of reality. Reality, resignation, and a little desperation. No one believes that the stimulus wasn't the right policy, although even liberals in the administration are frustrated by how slowly the money has moved out of the Treasury. (Maybe there are too many regulations!).
So far, the administration has not come up with a grand plan to save the economy, other than to badger business to hire, badger Ben Bernanke into buying T-bonds (thus adding to demand), and to badger Americans into not feeling so damn pessimistic. But there is no trump card in Larry Summers' back pocket.
The hope now is to convince independents that, however badly the Democrats are at fixing the economy, the Republicans broke it, and they'll make it worse. So, don't vote. Don't vote for us, because you weren't going to. But don't vote for them either.
Can't the administration propose a big new stimulus? A massive round of budget cuts? Sure it can. And maybe it can make a difference simply by appearing to fight for the right economic policy, even if they know it is transparently unpopular. The calculation, though, is that Democrats will suffer more in November if the administration starts speaking up now. The base is too demoralized to rally around spending, of all things, particularly because the base wants more than an argument -- they want success.
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.