In the Arena

First, Kill All the Political Consultants

The Des Moines Register has released an off-the-record endorsement interview with President Obama...and I haven't a clue why the Obama folks wanted this off-the-record in the first place.

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I find myself, once again, boggled by this presidential campaign. The Des Moines Register has released an off-the-record endorsement interview with President Obama…and I haven’t a clue why the Obama folks wanted this off-the-record in the first place. It is lucid, compelling, colloquial and almost candid. Obama talks about how he actually see the first year of his next term should he be reelected:

So when you combine the Bush tax cuts expiring, the sequester in place, the commitment of both myself and my opponent — at least Governor Romney claims that he wants to reduce the deficit — but we’re going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business.

It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.

And we can easily meet — “easily” is the wrong word — we can credibly meet the target that the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and even more in the out-years, and we can stabilize our deficit-to-GDP ratio in a way that is really going to be a good foundation for long-term growth. Now, once we get that done, that takes a huge piece of business off the table.

The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I’ve cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.

So assume that you get those two things done in the first year, and we’re implementing Wall Street reform, Obamacare turns out not to have been the scary monster that the other side has painted. Now we’re in a position where we can start on some things that really historically have not been ideological. We can start looking at a serious corporate tax reform agenda that’s revenue-neutral but lowers rates and broadens the base — something that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed an interest in.

I suppose the “danger” here was the President talking about how messy the deficit fight might get. And maybe applauding Bush and Rove for their enlightened self-interest about the immigration issue, and maybe separating out the Latino vote for consideration in the first place. But the upside–the easy intelligence of Obama’s answers when he doesn’t feel constrained to weigh every word–far outweighs the risk.

I have friends–good friends, people I really admire–who serve as political consultants on both campaigns. And I’ve got to say that they’ve done the nation a disservice this year. They have put both candidates in straitjackets. Romney was encouraged to pursue a all-wingnut, all-the-time strategy through most of the year that didn’t fit his beliefs or personality. Obama was discouraged from laying out what he’d do in a second term. Both campaigns have suffered as a result–and so has the public.

In my experience, the most compelling line any political consultant can trot out is: “You can’t say that, because…” Insert here: “the focus groups don’t like it” or “it doesn’t poll well” or “our big money bundlers hate that idea” or “if you say, ‘it’ll be messy’ Drudge will plaster it all over his front page.” Ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Some politicians, like Bill Clinton, are skilled enough to know when to cast off the shackles; others, like George W. Bush, will defy the polls on matters of principle. Sadly, it seems that neither Romney nor Obama have been willing to do that this year. I would have loved a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate where the two sat down and just talked about where they agreed and disagreed, rather than floating whoppers and scoring points. But I suspect that in our mature, over-marketed democracy, those days are over.