The president is launching a new, campaign-style tour to “lay out his agenda for reinvigorating the economy.”
According to New York Times reporters Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman, Obama’s strategy is “aimed at giving him credit for the improving job market and lifting his rhetoric beyond the Beltway squabbles that have often consumed his presidency.”
Rush Limbaugh, talking this morning about the Magical Economy Tour, suggested that Obama would be able to convince a good number of Americans that prosperity is on the horizon ahead of us, if we will follow his policies. Obama will emphasize his belief that – contrary to JFK’s aphorism about a rising tide lifting all boats – economic strength emanates out from the middle; i.e., from the middle class. He will focus on rhetoric claiming to support and empower the middle class.
Most importantly, he will marshal every positive economic statistic he can in an effort to convince citizens that things are better than they were, better than the Republicans say, better than the evidence of people’s own lives tells them – and that things will only get more so.
Now, all of this sounds like ordinary political boilerplate, and I think Rush is correct in assessing that Obama’s goal is to change the public narrative about the economy, and ultimately change people’s minds about it. But the timing is interesting to me. The Magical Economy Tour will reportedly run for the next two months. The 2014 Congressional election is more than a year away, in terms of the prime voter-attention-span window. I think Obama’s tour has a nearer-term objective.
What key item on Obama’s agenda is actually in trouble right now? And which one has a major deadline on 1 October 2013 – the turn of the fiscal year – a little over two months from now? That’s right: Obamacare.
In a tacit concession to its unworkability, the president suspended implementation of the employer mandate until after the 2014 election, a (probably illegal) move so transparent that toddlers must be poking fun at it. Democrats are turning against Obamacare in Congress, dozens of them having voted with House Republicans last week to delay the employer mandate and even to delay the individual mandate. Media coverage of Obamacare is turning negative, even in the MSM and the leftosphere. Now The Hill, which covers Congressional action on Capitol Hill, is doing its best to depict tentative Republican threats of a government shutdown after 30 September, over Obamacare funding, as an impending crisis.
I suspect most Americans who oppose Obamacare think there is no immediate prospect of repealing it, and that the House probably can’t do much other than shave it a bit on the margins until there’s a Republican Senate and a Republican in the Oval Office. But Obama’s unilateral delay of the employer mandate provoked a wave of negative press, and that is unusual for him.
Defecting Democrats are a bad sign too: in the next couple of years, if enough Democrats want to start taking bites out of Obamacare’s most onerous and unpopular provisions, Congress really can prevent a full implementation of the program. If the individual mandate can be eliminated, Obamacare has nowhere to go. And in the short term – two months from now – the House Republican threat to withhold funding for Obamacare implementation could have some teeth. At the very least, it could force negotiation and compromise.
The Obamacare debate has the aspect of a turning tide right now: a tide turning against Obama.
But there is nothing Team Obama wants more than to ensure that the state insurance exchanges start up, and that people start signing up for them. Nothing. Literally.
Obama also wants the states that have signed on for the Medicaid boondoggle to stay the course. He is willing to delay the most politically explosive aspect of Obamacare – the employer mandate, the one that hits the unions and thousands of small businesses hard – to keep the dependency-building measures on track under the radar: the measures that sign on more and more dependents for the government program. Those measures require, precisely, funding for Obamacare in the 2014 budget.
Observing all his moves in context, I don’t think Obama’s latest “pivot to the economy” is either a random propaganda effort or a mere political tactic. It looks like a strategy to get out in front of the narrative on Obamacare, which is turning negative and becoming a problem for the president, two months before Obamacare’s most important 2013 deadline. If he can own the popular narrative about the economy, Obama will improve his position vis-à-vis Republicans in the Obamacare budget showdown.
The implication will be that if the economy is getting better and will continue to, we can afford Obamacare. After all, Obamacare is the president’s signature program for empowering the middle class and growing the economy from the middle out. The Republicans are just being obstructionist.
I don’t necessarily expect Obama to lay this out explicitly and systematically. He rarely does, when talking policy. His most explicit moments are his philosophical ones, when he talks in Frankfurt School-Marxist soundbites. When it comes to economic policy, we will have to divine his meanings as we always do, by threading our way among the high-flown rhetoric, the strawmen, and the snark grenades.
But if this comparatively disengaged, noncommittal president has a pattern, it is one of doing whatever he has to, to make his highest-priority agenda items stick. There is no agenda item higher for him than getting as many Americans as possible dependent on government-run health “insurance.” Making sure the first step in that process goes off without a funding hitch is the urgent purpose behind the Magical Economy Tour.