Although the Obama campaign is happy to report the recent drop in the unemployment survey, the Republican critique that the drop is due in part to those leaving the labor force and giving up on finding work is more than mere spin. That’s because of a simple truth, and one that has hurt the Obama campaign’s narrative of recovery: it is quite a challenge to convince an unemployed person that they have a job. At the beginning of the year, the Obama campaign tried selling the economy as being on the upswing, and voters pushed back.
In February, Democracy Corps released polling on the most recent State of the Union address, and here is what they wrote:
One of the President’s weakest operative frameworks highlights recent progress on job creation. This message is potentially dangerous for Democrats. During the State of the Union, we watched the dial lines go flat, with even Democrats peaking below 70 when the President highlighted recent jobs numbers.
In post-speech focus groups, respondents explained why this part of the speech did not resonate for them: first, and most importantly, they have not seen these jobs or felt the effects of job creation. But they are also deeply concerned that these jobs are not permanent, that these new jobs belie much deeper structural problems in the economy, and that the new jobs that have been created are far inferior to the more stable, full-time, well-paying middle class jobs that have been lost over the last decade.
Of course, this was almost a year ago, and in that time economic data has improved, so it’s possible the message would be better received today. But the point is, the Obama campaign had to drop certain overly optimistic language from the president’s campaign speeches because the public wasn’t buying it. Something similar may be happening with regard to the president’s message that al-Qaeda is on its heels.
Yesterday, Josh Rogin wrote that that the White House was bombastic about “decimating” the terror group’s leadership, but when evidence of al-Qaeda’s possible role in the Benghazi attack emerged, the White House began narrowing its claim territorially:
“Well, what we have said all along, what the president has said all along, is that … progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region,” adding that al Qaeda “remains our No. 1 foe.”
Carney repeated his qualification that al Qaeda is hurting in Southwest Asia, but not necessarily in North Africa, two days later.
And yesterday Fox reported that Obama had been saying that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” a phrase which seems to have been dropped as well: “But at the debate Tuesday and on the campaign trail Wednesday, the Al Qaeda reference appeared to have been walked back.”
The two claims about the economic recovery and decimating al-Qaeda are closely related, since they are the dual pitch of the Obama campaign’s accomplishments over the last four years. It also tells you why they haven’t retired the phrase “bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” Both the economic argument (the auto bailout) and the national security argument (bin Laden’s death) are more closely targeted, narrow pitches. The auto bailout has always been pretty unpopular nationally, but less so in the Rust Belt. And the nation celebrated the demise of bin Laden, but isn’t ready to believe that terrorism is no longer much of a threat.
And both elements of the bin Laden/GM slogan line up with reality, whereas overstating the economic recovery and the victories over al-Qaeda are so self-evidently contradicted by the facts that they undermine the president’s credibility on these two important issues.