The New York Times delivered an iceberg size wake up call to Mr. Obama and the President’s stunningly inept re-election team.  The most recent Times/CBS poll shows Mr. Romney slightly ahead of Mr. Obama nationally, 47 to 46 percent.  Those results are worse than the same poll found weeks ago, before the campaign team began hammering on Mitt Romney’s business dealings, his tax avoidance and lack of character.

What the poll is telling us is not just that Mr. Obama is losing, but the American people are coming to the conclusion he does not deserve reelection, regardless of the deeply flawed character of his opponent.  It suggests the election is a referendum on Mr. Obama’s stewardship of the economy, no matter how much the re-election team wants to frame it as a choice between their guy and his obviously unworthy opponent.  This is what accountability looks like.

Perhaps more telling to the incumbent and his policies, the poll found respondents believe by a 49% to 41% margin that Mr. Romney would do a better job in managing the economy.   You would be hard pressed to find any responsible economists not working for Team GOP who actually believe, or could credibly explain how, Mr. Romney’s policies would improve matters.  Those policies would do little more than shift more wealth towards the top, hold the middle class stagnant or worse, harm the poor, and dramatically cut public services to the detriment of everyone but the wealthiest Americans.  So when a poll tells you Americans think Mr. Obama would do worse in managing the economy, it may seem illogical, but it’s a huge thumbs down on what they expect from an Obama second term.

I’ve always thought Mr. Obama’s team thinks he won in 2008 because of their brilliance and not because the country was overwhelmingly ready to dump George Bush and his legacy and wanted to feel good while doing it with their guy.  So how to explain this to the all the Presidents’ men?

First, your guy is a fine campaigner, who in ordinary times would be a shoo-in against the other side’s truly offensive caricature.  But these are extraordinarily bad times, with millions of people suffering and more millions losing hope.  They simply don’t understand why they’re not being helped when they know both parties leaped to bail out the scoundrels that caused the housing bubble, tanked the financial system and are still looting consumers with little accountability.  If your guy isn’t doing — and seen every day to be doing — everything he can to tell the American people how to right the economic ship, there’s no reason for voters to give him another term.

Second, the advantage of an incumbent President is not to be a campaigner but to be President. Anyone can campaign.  Any decent campaigner can poke fun at his inept rival.  But while it’s fair game for the campaign to go after Mitt’s character, his taxes, his business looting history, etc, the voters expect the President first to lead and run the country.  They expect a leader who has a plan that makes sense and that the American people understand.  And if that plan isn’t being implemented or passed because it’s obstructed by the most irresponsible and destructive GOP-led Congress in our lifetimes, then the President has to say that flat out and take that case to the people.

And it’s not just “Congress” that has to be held accountable; it’s a specific part of Congress.  It’s the opposition party plus everyone in your party (and in your own White House and Treasury etc) who have contributed to the false frames that make their obstructionism possible.

A responsible media, along with voters, should demand this President put the nation’s problems and solutions out front.  I don’t know whether doing that will save this President, but it will still be good for the country.  There are lots of things that need to be said, and the public may only be able to absorb a few, given the blizzard of distortions and lies bombarding us. But here’s a possible list of things just on the economy that any President should be telling the American people now.  Aside from possibly helping the campaign, they have the added advantage of being true and getting our discourse focused on what matters: [cont'd]

  1. The nation’s economy needs a major boost.    The US economy has stalled, and there’s little hope we’ll see much if any improvement in employment this year.  We gave it a half-size boost in 2009, and that helped for a while, but as some warned back then — and I should have listened — that wasn’t enough.  My mistake. But the solution isn’t to do less, repeating the same mistake.  We’re going to have to do more, and we need to do it now, not next year (and we shouldn’t be waiting for Europe’s problems to make it worse here, as they easily could).
  2. The states need help, and only the federal government can help them.   The radical spending cuts states have been imposing on public services, laying off hundreds of thousands of teachers, police/firemen and other public services are a major drag on the economy.  Drastically cutting public services may help balance state budgets, but it makes the overall economy worse. It reduces economic growth and increases unemployment, not just for the teachers and firemen directly laid off but also for those whose local businesses shrink when thousands of workers lose their jobs.  We need to reverse that destructive drag on the economy, and only the federal government can do that.  Not using federal government resources to help states in need is not just dumb economics; it’s unpatriotic. That’s one reason why we have a federal government.
  3. This is the best time in a century to rebuild the country; it’s financially irresponsible and unfair to our workers not to seize this opportunity.  We have trillions of dollars in needed infrastructure repairs, replacement and ungrading that are going neglected.  That’s hurting the economy now and it will hurt us in the future.  We’re cheating our own kids and their future by not making these investments now.  Yet we’ve never had lower costs for paying to get this work done, and we have millions of able-bodied Americans willing to do the work.  It’s crazy not to do this.  Let’s put Americans back to work doing the jobs Americans needs to have done.
  4. The Republican Party has become the enemy of everyone who needs a job but can’t get one, and that’s hurting business.  The Republican Party has been taken over by extremists with radical, unAmerican views.   They’ve blocked every effort in Congress to boost the economy and create jobs. (latest example)  And while making the economy worse and preventing millions from getting jobs, the Republican Party and their corporate allies have worked to strip away the safety net programs we have had since FDR to help those who are down mainly because the economy is down.  No decent country behaves this way.  No moral or religious people can defend this.  No decent citizen should tolerate these cruel policies. We need to get rid of this destructive element in this Congress and send a clear message that such views have no place in American politics.
  5. We have to fix the stupid deficit deal we passed in 2011.   Back in 2011, the Republican Party was holding the national debt extension and a government shutdown hostage to force agreement to radically and irresponsibly slash government spending, regardless of its effect on the economy and vital public services.  It was a shameful business, and I regret going along with it.   Now even the Republicans regret half of that deal, and the American people would soon regret the other half; the whole deal was a mistake.  It’s obvious to everyone, including independent observers, that imposing draconion automatic budget cuts would do serious damage to the economy.  As defense contractors keep reminding us, if you cut government defense spending, you cause unemployment to rise.  That argument applies to any government spending during a down economy, as state budget cuts have shown.  We need to repeal that stupid legislation and start over on a long-run budget deal that addresses the real needs of the country.  But this time we should do this without the blackmail and without the nonsensical claims that America faces some catastrophic debt crisis. We do not.  We are a wealthy country behaving as though we’re impoverished with no options.  That’s crazy.  I was wrong to accept the debt framing, and I intend to call out the scaremongers on all sides that have been misleading the country.
  6. We’re going to have to rein in our largest banks, because too many in that industry have been looting the country.  I inherited an economy that was sinking into depression and a financial sector that was collapsing, threating the entire economy.  We had to do something, but I made a mistake in believing that we could rescue the essential parts of the banking industry without dramatically changing the incentives that drive that industry to undermine the economy and cheat the public.  We’re going to have to do more to rein in this industry, like changing executive pay and incentives and restricting the casino mentality that still drives the largest banks.   We’re going to have to fully fund the regulatory staffs and those at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who’s job it is to police the fraudulent policies still prevalent in this industry.  By the way, the Republicans in Congress, and too many in my own party, have become dependent on industry donations.  They want to weaken regulations and let the financial industry loot the country at will.  That’s another reason why America can’t afford to let those elements control Congress.
  7. I’m going to have to clean my own house, because not all my advisers are on board with what needs to be done.    I intend to bring in new people who fully understand what needs to be done to get the economy moving and put people back to work.  We need people in regulatory positions who fully understand the threat the financial and mega corporate sectors still pose to the stability and fairness of the American economy.  And by the way, we’re going to have to reform the Federal Reserve, because it’s not doing its job at any level.  More to come . . .

And that’s just on the economy.

To be sure, the President already proposed (last Fall) a Jobs Act, aid to states to rehire public teachers, firemen etc, a bit more stimulus, some more tax breaks for those patriotic job-creating small businesses and so on.   I read dday every day.   But that’s not what Mr. Obama is running on.  Instead, he’s running against Mitt Romney’s character, and he’s left doing his job and solving the country’s problems out of the campaign.  So the message to American voters is that Mitt Romney would be awful, but Mr. Obama is not telling the country how he’s going to address the nation’s problems. And that deficient message is losing.