"The race may be a referendum on Mr. Obama, as Republicans want, or, as Democrats prefer, a choice between a president nursing the economy back to health and a challenger who represents the failed policies that caused the crisis in the first place."
The New York Times' Jonathan Weisman and Mark Landler couldn't have framed it better. That's how President Obama has to frame it, but not as either/or.
Absolutely, make it a referendum on what Obama has done, as well as on what an obstructionist opposition party has wrought.
If the "failed (GOP) policies" the Times cites in its prescient description of the choice ahead are seen as more of the "blame Bush" narrative — more living in the past — they're not.
This is about the tea party now, not George Bush. It's about how Mitt Romney would serve as its marionette.
Bush had a founder's hand in the Great Recession, sure, but it was the tea party that prevented Obama from doing what he ought to make things what they ought to be.
"Slashing spending while the economy is deeply depressed is self-defeating strategy," writes Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. Ah, but of course when the strategy is to drag down the "Obama economy," as Romney frames it, it is just what the tea party and Republicans in Congress have ordained: disabling it.
Considering what Obama has had to face in Congress — a perpetual filibuster in the Senate and a tea party-directed House — to accomplish what he has is no small feat. It is amazing to hear the frothy right talk about Obama's out-of-control spending, when Politifact.org acknowledges he has "presided over the slowest growth in spending of any president using raw dollars" — second-slowest when adjusted for inflation.
At the same time, taxes as a percent of GDP are the lowest since the 1950s, a trend that began with Reagan and one that has dragged the nation into a deep well of red ink. Meanwhile we waged multiple wars of choice, spent blindly on military needs, and failed to address problems with Social Security and Medicare. Can you say "intractable federal debt"?
An untidy truth is that war is good for an economy, particularly America's economy, since America makes the world's arms.
And yet the "Bush economy" went into the toilet despite all that war making, with its job creation and munitions making. And don't forget what it's done for American contractors.
Conversely, Obama has drawn down both wars, which means fewer jobs, less spent on munitions — not good for the economy, particularly this economy.
It has been odd since Obama took office to hear the same people rail against his domestic spending — much driven by the state of the economy he inherited. These people said almost nothing about the spending devoted to warfare under Bush.
How dare Obama spend on America's roads, its bridges, its schools, its water systems. Shouldn't we be spending that in Iraq or Afghanistan?
Indeed, we should be spending money here and now. Recent job figures say as much. But the obstructionist wing of government will have nothing of it, of course. For one thing, if the economy gets better too quickly, Obama's re-election chances improve similarly.
Hence, for sure no Republican was going to support America Jobs Act, the $450 billion stimulus package Obama proposed in September.
The proposal would have paired a cut in the payroll tax with a boost in spending for infrastructure, state aid for schools and first-responders, and additional unemployment relief.
Nein. Nicht. No. Nyet. How many ways can the GOP say no?
So, sure, make it a referendum — on Obama and what he has tried to do, and on what the GOP has tried to do to bring him down along with America's economy. What a patriotic act.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.