There were two notable improvements in Barack Obama’s press conference last night compared with his first presser several weeks ago.
First, by switching from two teleprompters located on the sides of the podium to one directly in front of him, Obama made much better eye contact with the television audience. Gone was the “looking right then left” head-turning that prevented him from looking directly into the camera. Just compare the YouTube video of his opening statements last night with his presser several weeks ago. It’s subtle, but it matters.
Second, Obama laid out the framework for a more coherent “common sense” narrative about his budget and future deficits – one that working people and small business owners may find more vivid.
Essentially, with his forceful repetition of the twin concepts of “investment” and “growth” to explain his budget Obama suggested an analogy between his economic strategy and the strategy of a typical small businessperson starting a new project. Let’s make the analogy explicit.
Two people decide to open restaurants. The first – more concerned about keeping his borrowing from the bank to an absolute minimum than anything else – borrows only $100,000, and tries to get by using paper plates, rickety furniture, the fewest possible waiters and the cheapest available chefs. As a result, the restaurant gets very few customers and eventually closes because the low revenues are not sufficient to pay even the relatively small monthly debt.
The second businessperson borrows twice as much, invests in decent quality tableware and furniture, more waiters and more highly trained cooks. As a result of these investments, the business attracts more customers and generates enough revenue to not only pay the larger monthly debt but also to turn a healthy profit.
This notion — that smart investments generate growth and allow one to pay even large monthly debts out of the even larger profits – is familiar and compelling to millions of Americans who own and manage small businesses. By emphatically repeating that his main priorities – health care, education, energy independence etc. – are all represent “good investments” that will lower costs and increase economic growth in the future, Obama explicitly invoked this mental model several times during his remarks.
This way of explaining Obama’s economic strategy makes the dry statistics of budgets and deficits something that average Americans can visualize in terms of “common sense.” Republicans can respond by arguing that Obama’s priorities are actually lousy investments that just waste money, but that’s a much more uphill argument than simply being able to attack the budget as just “spending” money and “increasing future debt.” Bobby Jindal’s ham-handed attempt to ridicule spending on volcano monitoring – which literally blew up in his (or more precisely Sarah Palin’s) face — illustrates the point quite nicely.