Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gauging the liberal mood on Obama's jobs speech

See if you can detect a subtle change in Ezra Klein's mood based on two of his articles about speeches by Barack Obama.

The first is from January 3, 2008, the night of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, after Obama gave his first victory speech of the campaign:

Obama's finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don't even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I've heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.

In the days to come, just as in the days that have passed, I'll talk much more about Obama's policies. About his health care policy, and his foreign policy, and his social policy, and his economic policy. But so much as I like to speak of white papers and scored proposals, politics is not generally experienced in terms of policies. It's more often experienced in terms of self-interest, and broken promises, and base fears, and half-truths. But, very rarely, it's experienced as a call to create something better, bigger, grander, and more just than the world we have. When that happens, as it did with Robert F. Kennedy, the inspired remember those moments for the rest of their lives. . . .

The politician who gets the most votes merits our congratulations. But the politician who enlarges our politics and empowers more Americans to step forward into the public square deserves our gratitude.
Now, here's Ezra Klein writing a few days ago about President Obama's upcoming jobs speech to a joint session of Congress:
I’ve stopped pretending that the president’s jobs speech scheduled for next week is going to matter. I’m tired of speculating about what it will contain and whether its proposals will be big or small, bold or timid.

Here is what will actually happen: President Barack Obama will give a speech. It will include a mixture of ideas the administration has pushed for some time (extending the payroll tax cut, investing in infrastructure, passing trade agreements) and some modest new additions (a tax cut for companies that hire new workers, for example). Relatively few people will tune in to the speech; of those who do, most will be either committed Obama supporters or equally committed detractors. . . .

Obama’s speech will achieve nothing. It will go nowhere because it has nowhere to go. . . .

The interest in the president’s speech is just a function of the fact that people who discuss politics and policy for a living need to seem like we’re doing something through the long summer months. The administration needs to look like it’s acting to create jobs, the media need to appear to be reporting news, the pundits need to generate opinions about it all.

This is the part of the column where, as a pundit, I lay out my three-point, politically implausible plan to turn the situation around. This is where I tell the president to fight harder, or take his message directly to the people, or fire up the lethargic Obama for America organization. This is where I remind the Republicans that they supported tax cuts as stimulus all through the last decade and even into 2009; where I beg them to put country before party; where I warn them that everything they are doing unto the Democrats today will be done unto them tomorrow. This is where I summon history to show how FDR or Reagan or Truman broke a similar logjam.

But such exhortations -- and I am guilty of writing variations on these many times over -- are pointless today. The facts are what they are. And what they are is depressing and unlikely to change.
So, it's safe to say Ezra Klein isn't predicting that President Obama's big speech on jobs in the middle of the primary campaign season is going to be one of his finest speeches?

But wait, Jonathan Chait at The New Republic does have a plan for Obama to accomplish something with his jobs speech. It's summed up in the headline of his article:
Obama's Best Hope on the Jobs Crisis: Convincing Us He's Not in Charge
Notice that Chait isn't saying Obama should be worried that his speech might give the impression that he's feckless on the economy. He says this is the best-case scenario for Obama.

In another piece, Chait points out that the White House's supposed interest in historical analogies to presidents who won reelection while unemployment was high — FDR and Reagan — "sounds like pure delusion":
Roosevelt in 1936 and Reagan in 1984 had high unemployment, yes. But they also had very rapid economic growth. . . .

These were situations where the public could discern rapid improvement from a bad situation. No such thing is likely to be the case next year. 1936 and 1984 are not good lessons. They're counter-examples . . . .

Americans are very, very unhappy. Obama's task is to persuade them to blame Republicans. Running an election taking credit for, well, anything is a terrible idea.