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The Fall Economic Narratives Begin To Take Shape
There is so much on Washington's plate these days. New Supreme Court Justice. The BP Oil Spill. Troubles in Afghanistan. Immigration Reform. An important G20 meeting. Financial Services Reform Bill. The list goes on and on. This Congress, and this President have been given much to do, and are trying very hard to do it all.
From these many issues I still believe there is one which may be have more to do with deterniming the national climate in the fall than any other - the economy. As we've argued before, people's basic unhappiness with the way the economy has played out in recent years has been helping drive political outcomes in recent years. As it should - a "Lost Decade" of ten years of no wage and income growth in the US is an event large enough and core enough to most families to crowd out other important concerns.
The emerging Republican economic argument is simple:
Democrats have spent lots of money, driven up the deficit and unemployment remains unacceptably high, certainly much higher than they promised when they introduced the stimulus bill. It is now clear that the Democratic economic strategy hasn't worked.
As far as it goes this is a pretty good political argument for its basic premise is true. Despite massive investments the economy is not where we want it to be.
In many ways one of the most important questions of this election cycle will be how Democrats respond to this line of attack. You got a glimpse of what might be the Democratic argument in the fall in the President's recent economic speech at Carnegie-Mellon. He said, and I paraphrase -
the GOP drove the American economy into a ditch, our plan has started to make things better; we have a plan for the future, they, the GOP, don't.
I think this argument is also largely true, and is a good argument. I have made this argument repeatedly on cable news shows the last few months and it holds up well. I think it can defeat the GOP's argument which is only a critique of the Democratic plan, and not a full plan, or robust alternative.
What should worry the Democrats a bit is the inability to get the entire Party on this narrative. The recent drive to cut the President's mini-stimulus for example has Democratic Congressional Members taking up the Republican side of this argument, agreeing that the core problem in the economy today is too much spending (and not ten years of inadequate wage and income growth for workers, or an economy that is still not producing enough new jobs). Looking at the Congressional debate today, it looks as if the Republican argument about the American economy is winning the day, even with Democrats. For Democrats this should be seen as an ominous development, for if Democrats cannot win the argument on what has been the number one issue for voters over the past five years they will have a very hard time winning the election itself this fall.
Update - Chris Cillizza just posted a piece looking at a new Greenberg/Bolger poll testing similar economic messages in battleground Congressional districts. The piece, and the poll, are very much worth a read.