President Obama is making a riverboat gamble that by doubling down on courting big business he will unleash a surge of jobs and lead resurgent Democrats to a triumph in 2012. Whether this strategy works will determine whether the 2012 campaign resembles the Reagan reelection of 1984 or the chaotic election of 1968.
I applaud the decisions to name Bill Daley as White House chief of staff and Gene Sperling as senior White House economic adviser, as well as to retain the universally respected Pete Rouse as senior counselor. Daley is a big-league player who brings political and business experience and clout. Sperling is a creative economic policymaker and skilled dealmaker who is not “another Wall Streeter.”
If the president’s bet pays off and there is a gigantic surge of jobs before the next election, Obama in 2012 will run like Reagan in 1984. Morning in America ads will saturate the airwaves. “Right track” numbers will soar.
In the 1984 scenario the Democratic base will rally alongside the jobs. White blue-collar workers and independent voters will return to Democrats. The president will be reelected. The Senate will remain Democratic. Democrats will make a major run to regain control of the House by defeating many of the 62 Republican members from districts that supported Obama in 2008.
If the president’s courtship of big business fails and the jobs surge does not arrive the Democratic base will be in open revolt. The Republican primaries will bring bitter divisions between establishment and insurgent Republicans.
In the 1968 scenario the “wrong track” number will surge higher. The president’s popularity will collapse. If Republicans nominate a moderate they could win control of the presidency, the House and the Senate. If Republicans nominate a candidate of the right, support will surge for an independent candidate. All bets will be off for incumbents in the fourth straight change election.
Progressives share a disdain for the revolving door that has not changed under Obama. Highest-level economic policy remains a white male bastion of Wall Street on the Potomac. Highest-level Wall Street remains a white male bastion of Washington on the Hudson.
The magnitude of Obama’s bet is huge. He is reaching outside his inner circle for a chief of staff with business and political clout, and sacrificing much of the populist spirit of 2008 with a big gamble that big business will create far more jobs.
The plan could work. America has a powerful economy that could surge quickly with an increase in business and consumer confidence. If the spigot of the near $2 trillion that is now being hoarded by business is opened, and the worry of consumers turns to confidence, the Morning in America scenario could well unfold.
The plan could fail. Our Gilded Age economy runs deep. There are reasons that business might take the money without creating the jobs. If this happens, the unrest within the Democratic primaries and throughout the nation will be far greater than insiders imagine.
Democrats should fight for the long-term jobless and public works programs and offer Republicans major capital gains tax cuts for new energy, conservation and advanced medical research, but make no mistake:
President Obama has made a very big bet, with very high stakes.
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