A reality that almost all election polls don’t reflect is that, only six weeks before the elections, the public is still not focused on the November vote. Americans are, instead, worrying about the economy and not likely to think about mid-term elections until the last minute, calling into question any of the poll results being churned out now on almost a daily basis.
President Obama has tried hard to convince the public that it is their economic hardships he worries about most, that he is struggling to solve the problems and that the Republicans would stop any progress that has been made so far.
News that Lawrence Summers, head of the president’s economic team, is leaving and being replaced signals that the battle between the forces determined to go the route of job creation and those who favor deficit reduction has not been finally decided. Whether and how the Obama economic team shifts after the departure of Summers will reflect much more than simply what the president would like to do.
To begin with, much of the public really does not know what can or should be done to fix the economy.
Some don’t realize that massive job creation must be done first and some of those are influenced by the tea party claim that getting rid of Obama will fix everything.
But many who don’t know what should be done are people of good will. They continue to feel the president is sincere, because, as he changes his economic leadership team, they feel he is proving he wants to fix the problem.
Thus, when Republicans put together some focus groups in recent weeks, they came away “surprised” and even unhappy about some of the results.
Focus groups of middle-class mothers, for example, expressed “disappointment” with the president, but the same groups expressed the need for “patience” as the president tries to turn things around. Neil Newhouse, the Republican pollster who looked at these groups, told the Washington Post yesterday that he was “struck by these voters’ seeming patience with the president.”
“I’ve seen this before,” he said, “that people want him to do well. But the clear voicing of sympathy for the guy was a surprise for me.”
This good will, while it does not reflect an understanding of the need for a massive government jobs program, is important because it gives the president some room as he mulls over the replacement for Summers.
He has room to consider the argument from progressives that he should not select someone who would be seen as accommodating corporate interests because he would be seen as weak.
He has room, for example, to consider the argument of OurFuture.org’s Richard Eskow against Richard Parsons because selection of the head of Citigroup would pose a public perception problem.
With a public believing in his sincerity, the president can be more flexible when considering whether to appoint someone like Ann Fudge, the Young and Rubicam manager. She has some progressive credentials on the one hand but, on the other, she has been a member of the deficit commission whose very creation has been opposed by progressives from the beginning.
Progressives who support massive job creation programs would be thrilled with economist Paul Krugman, and less thrilled with Janet Yellin, president of the Federal Reserve in San Francisco who nevertheless has better job creation credentials than her colleagues at the Fed.
Various reports list among the other possible replacements Rebecca Blank, a Commerce Department official who manages the Census Bureau; Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox; and economist Laura Tyson, who has argued long and loud for a second stimulus program.
The rampant speculation over Summers’ successor is happening because there is a fight inside the administration, like there is a fight on the outside, between those who want to focus on economic growth and job creation and those who want to focus on cutting the deficit.
As good as it is for the president to have a public that is “patient,” it would be far better if the grassroots coalition that got the president elected in the first place was much larger and more powerful than it currently is.
Were it so, struggles within the administration like the one over Summers’ replacement would have been settled a long time ago. And, were it so, Republican filibusters wouldn’t be an issue, either.