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Policy: Economy

Polls falling, agenda stalling, Obama turns to economy

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Beltway Confidential,Byron York,Barack Obama,Polls,Economy,Analysis

President Obama, who has spent his second term so far pressing for higher taxes, gun control, immigration reform, and climate change, says “phony debate and nonsense” have distracted Washington away from the economy, which is the issue that matters most to the American people. To bring the capital’s attention back to what is most important, the president is traveling to his home state Wednesday, to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, to discuss his plans for the economy.

“I’m going to talk about where we need to go from here,” Obama told officials of Organizing for Action, the spinoff of his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, at a gathering Monday night in one of Washington’s glitziest hotels, the Mandarin Oriental. Obama said his Illinois speech would concentrate on “how we need to put behind us the distractions and the phony debate and nonsense that somehow passes for politics these days, and get back to basics, refocus on what it is that everybody is talking about around the kitchen table, what people are talking about day to day with their families.”

Obama told OFA he will use the speech to kick off a long period “of us trying to get Washington and the press to refocus on the economy and the struggles that middle-class families are going through.”

Obama’s pledge comes as the RealClearPolitics average of polls shows his job approval rating at 45.4 percent, against a disapproval rating of 48.9 percent. Obama has been underwater in the RCP average for all of June and now July, a situation some Republicans attribute to the various woes and scandals of his second term: IRS, Benghazi, NSA surveillance, spying on reporters. But it’s important to remember that Obama’s problems come in the context of a continuing high unemployment rate. It’s 7.6 percent now, and has never been lower than 7.5 percent during Obama’s entire time in the White House. The so-called U-6 rate, which adds to the unemployed those who are working part time but want to work full time, along with those who have given up searching for a job, is 14.3 percent.

Obama’s “new” direction is a repeat of something he has done many times in the past. At various points in his presidency — always with a backdrop of prolonged and painful unemployment — the president has directed his attention to non-economic issues, only to decide that he must “pivot” back to the economy in the face of declining poll numbers or an approaching election. Given that pattern, some Republicans found Obama’s latest move bitterly amusing.

“The president says he’s going to go out and ‘pivot’ back to jobs,” said House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday. “Well, welcome to the conversation, Mr. President. We’ve never left it.”

“The idea that the White House can simply ‘pivot’ to jobs for a day or two, then abandon it for a few weeks or months, then pivot back again for a couple days, really epitomizes an attitude that turns people off from politics,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But now Obama is, in fact, pivoting back to jobs. But the one thing his record suggests is that the pivot will be temporary, while American anxieties about the economy are lasting. In the 2012 exit polls, 59 percent of voters in the presidential election listed the economy as their main concern — far ahead of health care, with 18 percent. In the 2008 exit polls, 63 percent of voters said the economy was their main concern — far, far ahead of the war in Iraq, with ten percent. Thus, it has always been clear that jobs and the economy are Americans’ main concern. As obvious as that seems, though, it’s something the president appears to understand only now and then.

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