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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Yglesias: Actual Job-Creation Trumps Speech Rhetoric

Matthew Yglesias takes a dour look at the focus of a debate now raging between liberal and moderate Democrats in his ThinkProgress post, “How The ‘Hack Gap’ Will Kill Obama’s Jobs Speech.”

I think Jon Chait gets this exactly right. The debate between moderate Democrats who want the president to propose initiatives that can pass Congress even if they don’t create jobs and liberal Democrats who want the president to propose initiatives that would create jobs even if they can’t pass Congress is nonsense.
If you’re going to propose things that can pass Congress and they create jobs, then I don’t think it matters whether or not they’re popular. The job creation will be rewarded. But if you’re going to pass something that can’t pass Congress, then it doesn’t matter at all whether it would hypothetically work, all that matters is that it polls well. And as Chait says, the things that Keynesian analysis suggests would create jobs — much larger budget deficits, higher inflation — are not popular things to campaign on…

As for the President’s upcoming speech on Thursday, Yglesias sees an unavoidable snare resulting from the lack of Democratic message discipline:

The smart move, if you’re just going to give a speech for speech’s sake, is to make the speech be full of nonsense bromides that voters like to hear. Except one problem President Obama will face is that for a “nonsense bromides” strategy to be maximally effective, it would be really useful for the entire progressive echo chamber to get really excited about his bromide agenda and start loudly insisting that the bromides would be super-successful in reducing unemployment if implemented. But Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, etc. won’t do that. A speech full of bromides will be disparaged as bromidish. These are the wages of the “hack gap,” the fact that the progressive media ecology is less leadable than the Conintern. Consequently, the president will probably try to split the difference in a way that leaves everyone unhappy and sniping at him from all directions.

There is a better way to go, says Yglesias, “…What he actually needs are measures that would boost the economy and don’t require congressional authorization.” Yglesias doesn’t define the measures of such an ‘end run’ strategy in his post. But some of these measures will likely be advocated in a spate of “what the president should say” articles and posts over the next week.
Yglesias also identifies the primary obstacle to any further stimulus proposals:

But to understand just how screwed Obama is, you need to read Ed Glaeser’s criticisms of mass mortgage modifications. He goes on at great length about some flaws in the idea, and sort of breezily dismisses the need for economic stimulus in a couple of sentences that do nothing more than establish that this isn’t a particularly well-targeted form of stimulus. And yet is Glaeser volunteering to whip votes in the House to get a better-targeted, more-optimal stimulus through the GOP caucus? Of course not. But precisely the reaction you’ll get to any institutionally feasible stimulus at this point is that it’s a poorly targeted, inefficient desperation move. And in a sense, that’s true. The best time to get this right was back in 2009 when the White House had a much stronger hand.

Despite his impressive public speaking skills, President Obama faces a daunting challenge in his jobs speech a week from today. But if Yglesias is right, Obama’s greater challenge is to reduce unemployment through executive action that doesn’t require congressional approval.

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