"President Obama spoke for 54 minutes and there was not one new idea about how to fix the economy," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted in response to President Obama's big campaign speech in Ohio Thursday, and he was right! There has been a bit of Democratic panic recently over whether Obama needs to change his message (and for insight into how wise this change might be, note that Mitt Romney also suggested Obama "change course"). But here's some evidence that Obama is not going to change course at all: He talked about how his plan to create jobs -- nearly a year old now -- has been "voted down time and time again." But there's a way to get it passed: "What's holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate." No new ideas, just give the old ones a chance by scaring Republicans a little in November. Still want change? Vote for me again.
Late last night, well before Obama's speechifying today, Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall published a great email from reader "J.R." which explained Obama's consistency:
The key is that a good campaign is built to win over “iffy” voters (i.e., nonpartisan/soft-partisan swing voters and sporadic/new base voters) in November, not to move polling numbers in May or June. Obama isn’t bouncing around searching for something that works, his campaign has made informed decisions about what works that they are sticking with in a succession of messaging over many months. The messaging in the spring and summer is about planting seeds in voters for later.
In 2004, the Bush campaign didn't seem to hurt John Kerry with the "I was for it before I was against it" line in the spring, J.R. says, but sowed enough doubts about Kerry in voters' minds by that November. And in his speech today, Obama showed a similar strategy by continuing to plant the seed that Romney and Republicans don't care about regular people and want to give tax cuts to guys like himself. "If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney," Obama said. "No no, you should vote for his allies in Congress and take them at their word and they will take America down this path. And Mr. Romney is qualified to deliver on that plan."
Obama got meta, like a fun-killing political scientist urging reports to stop talking about gaffes and other stories of the day. The election will be about the economy, Obama said, and "when you strip everything else away, that's what this election is about. Everything else is just noise. Everything else is just a distraction." This is largely true. But it also makes things difficult for Obama. If the vote in November will largely be about the economy, he (and Romney) don't have much they can do to change the outcomes. (This is why no one likes listening to fun-killing political scientists, even if they tend to be right.)
Obama and Romney's fates may be determined by the speed of the recovery over the next five months. But that won't stop them both from making plenty of noise themselves. Both campaigns will spend a lot of money airing TV ads, and Romney's will, Obama predicted, "tell you that the economy is bad… tell you that its all my fault… say I can't fix it because I didn't make a lot of money in the private sector… or because I think everyone's doing just fine." But unlike a fun-killing political scientist, Obama did not follow the observation to its logical conclusion. Rather than conclude (mostly correctly) that the vote will be a referendum on the performance of the economy over the last couple years, he argued, it will be a choice between two distinct economic views: his, in which government has a role, and Romney's, which he said would be a retread of the policies of George W. Bush. Obama cited a Moody's analyst saying Romney's plan wouldn't create any new jobs in the short-term. "That's not spin. That's not my opinion," Obama said. But it does get you back to the one idea that he will hit hard from now until November: the economy will get better faster if you pick me again instead of the new guy.