This is one of the most forceful and devastating critiques I’ve seen of a president in over his head:
“We’re almost three years into this administration, and there’s never been a plan. And that’s what everybody feels. And the president didn’t lead. He waited. The quintessential image, sadly, of an administration that I supported and hoped for much better, is the president waiting by the phone to hear what Congress calls to tell him. It doesn’t work in this country that way. It’s not a matter that it’s August. It’s a matter that it’s August 2011. So we’ve been drifting for a very long time. And we’ve been drifting down. And we had a short-term plan that failed. A short-term stimulus that was supposed to get the economy back on track, but it failed. And now we have nothing behind it. And we have no agreements, and we have no leadership. And, frankly, I do think it’s pretty odd the president’s on vacation right now. Normally I wouldn’t care about such things, but the world markets are in deep crisis. It’s no joke. This isn’t just an up-and-down little blip. This is a very serious situation.”
It is all the more devastating because it comes from liberal economist Jeffrey Sachs, no slouch at Harvard and no conservative stalking horse. You can imagine this might show up in a Republican ad in 2012.
It’s actually very similar to what the GOP candidates are saying this week. On a Chicago radio show, Mitt Romney put it this way:
[Y]ou asked the question why was he so misguided for the last, well almost three years? You know, he came into office and job one was to get America working again, but instead of focusing on that, he focused on Obamacare, cap and trade, and Dodd-Frank bill and all these other things he wanted to do and each of those made the economy softer; made it harder for us to recover and, you know, I think the reason he’s taking the time to wait for his next speech on the economy is that he, frankly, doesn’t know what to do. He hasn’t spent his life in the private sector. He doesn’t understand how jobs come and go. And, he’s looking for help. And the right answer is for him to step aside and let somebody help guide the nation that understands how this economy works.”
Romney and Sachs come from different ideological perspectives, but their diagnosis is nearly identical.
Rep. Michele Bachmann’s campaign had this reaction to Sachs’s comments: “The president had a plan. The trouble is his plan all along was to tax and squeeze job creators. It worked, and maybe that explains his disinterest in doing anything to actually turn the economy around.”
Now, to be clear Sachs has been on President Obama’s case for some time, criticizing him from the left. But it was this observation in Huffington Post that may be his most insightful:
Who runs the White House? David Plouffe, whose job it is to make sure that every word, every action of the president is calculated for electoral gain rather than the country’s needs.
This seems entirely accurate. I find it hard to believe that Austan Goolsbee, Jack Lew or Gene Sperling couldn’t have come up with a credible 2012 budget or an impressive attempt at entitlement reform. They probably did. But the decision to in essence do nothing, and later to blow up the “grand bargain” talks with House Speaker John Boehner, were political decisions. The recent bus tour was undiluted politics. And we can expect that Obama’s speech in September will be more of the same.
The economy is melting down before our eyes, so what will Obama offer? Maybe another trillion-dollar “stimulus,” which as Sachs pointed out, didn’t work the first time and would, frankly, be even more ludicrous this time as the 12-member supercommittee works on cutting spending. He could urge more tax hikes, but even Plouffe might object that horrified investors and a cascading stock market would be a political downer. He could throw in all the scrap he’s been keeping in the cupboard ( e.g. infrastructure bank, patent reform). But his Lilliputian proposals are becoming a sign of his own dwarfed stature.
So what are Sachs and other disillusioned Democrats to do? Normally an ineffective president who has failed to ignite his base faces a primary challenge. That’s not happening here. The alternative would be to sit on their hands and close their wallets in 2012, focusing on trying to elect more liberal members of the House and Senate.
But Republicans should take note. Sachs is far to the left, but many other Democrats or true independents agree with every word he said. How is the GOP going to reach those people? That’s the key to retaking the White House. Well, that and using that really compelling Jeffrey Sachs video.