Pundits Competing to Frame Obama

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Barack, Conservatism, Liberalism, Media, Obama

After less than two months of Barack Obama’s presidency, pundits across the spectrum are competing to “frame” the new administration. There are lots of narratives, but, in my mind, the most potent ones are expressed in two editorials appearing today.

From the negative side, Janet Daley at Britain’s Telegraph argues that Obama is handing the reins over to liberal Democrats in Congress:

[W]hy, when [Obama] went to such pains to assemble a huge and widely experienced team of White House economic advisers (even going to the lengths of parading them at a press conference before he took office) he then handed over the actual drafting of his economic policy to the old Democratic fixers in Congress. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, are now, for all intents and purposes, running the Obama recovery plan.

Needless to say, Daley has a very low opinion of Pelosi’s and Reid’s motives and capabilities.

From the positive side, former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, writes in Salon that Obama is plotting a radically ingenious course likely to remake America and end the economic troubles started under Reagan.

The basic idea of Reaganomics was that the economy grows from the top down. Lower taxes on the wealthy make them work harder and invest more, and the benefits trickle down to everyone else. Rarely in economic history has a theory been more tested in the real world and proven so wrong. In point of fact, nothing trickled down. After the Reagan tax cuts, increases in the median wage slowed, adjusted for inflation. After George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, the median wage actually dropped. Meanwhile, most of the income went to the top. In 1980, just before the Reagan revolution, the richest 1 percent took home 9 percent of total national income. But by 2007, the richest 1 percent was taking home 22 percent.

Obamanomics, by contrast, holds that an economy grows best from the bottom up. Obama’s program increases taxes on the top and uses the proceeds to raise the living standard of average Americans by giving them lower taxes, better schools and more affordable health insurance. That may not seem very radical, but compared with the last quarter century it’s revolutionary.

Reich notes that Obama’s administration is working hard to present his programs as incremental changes, but Reich sees them for the radical change they are.

Here’s why I think these two narratives are likely to compete for public attention for at least the next two years:

First, on the Daley side of things, Reid and particularly Pelosi are certainly harmful to Obama’s hopes for change. They seem far more interested in political payback and rewarding key interest groups than they are in improving government. As long as the current Democratic congressional leadership is in place, Obama will have to either fight the good fight or acquiesce to bad policy. So far, he’s done more acquiescing than some of us would like, thus setting himself up to be labeled a pawn of the liberal/establishmentarian wing of his party.

On the Reich side of things, he’s putting the Obama presidency into the kind of framework from which legacies are born. If the economy turns around, Reich’s narrative would give Obama the kind of big idea, reformer credit which only Roosevelt and Reagan have enjoyed in the last 75 years. A good economy in 2012 would give Obama the opportunity to run not just as a competent manager but has a political savoir, potentially ushering in an era of “trickle up” dominance.

The difference in the positive and negative narratives is that the negative is based on a very real problem (the small mindedness of the Democratic congressional leadership), while the positive is based on the hope/belief the economy will indeed rebound and we’ll be better off afterwards. I would go so far as to say for the “Obama as savoir” narrative to work, the president must first solve the “Congress as stone-around-the-neck” problem first.

Right now, none of us knows what the next few years will bring. But don’t expect that to stop the world’s pundits from trying to define Obama before a single result is in.


This entry was posted on Monday, March 16th, 2009 and is filed under Barack, Conservatism, Liberalism, Media, Obama. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Pundits Competing to Frame Obama”

  1. Avinash_Tyagi Says:

    If ther economy turns around by October 2012, which it almost certainly will, Obama will basically be coronated in his reelection campaign. Truly barring something major, Obama will be reelected by a large margin and Democrats will likely be able to ride his coattails to victory and political dominance. The bigger key for Obama is what he does for the long term, what will happen in his second term and what will be the state of the nation when he leaves in 2016, because at that point the Dems have no established line of succession, so it will be important that Obama leaves with high approval ratings and a strong economy that can bolster the Democratic field in 2016.

  2. Alistair Says:

    To: Avinash_Tyagi

    I think it’s too early but the economy should turn around at the beginning of 2010 which begs the question as you suggest if he leaves office with high approval rating with a strong economy it will bolster the Democratic field, but the question is who Hillary Clinton will be 68 years old and would be the oldest person every to run for office. One Democrat that I would be looking at very closely is Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill who like Clinton has a very populist message that would appeal to moderate. Speaking of which moderate Republican will make a comeback and could make a strong case and that one person to watch very closely is Jon huntsman of Utah who could make a strong run for office in 2016.

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