Echoing the memo that Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps published Monday, I called on President Obama to offer a bold agenda on jobs and the economy on Tuesday night, one that would lay out specific contrasts to the empty suit of the Mitt Romney agenda and would inspire both the progressive base and the undecideds who are clamoring for change.
I asked the author of that memo, Stan Greenberg, whether Obama met the challenge. His answer is important for what needs to take shape in the coming days of the campaign.
We have by now been inundated with the narrative that the president was a much feistier, passionate and crisper defender of his policies on Tuesday than he was in the first debate earlier this month. And that is good.
It was also clear to any casual listener of the debate what the president intends to do, including make key investments and policy choices that will revive the manufacturing sector, upgrade our infrastructure, move us toward a clean energy economy and improve our educational system.
But what a casual listener did not hear was a more detailed plan of how Obama would accelerate the growth of the economy and ensure that that growth would reach into the areas of the economy most devastated by the economic crash. For starters, Obama could have brought up the American Jobs Act, his initiative last year that would have accelerated spending on infrastructure and sent dollars to states and municipalities that would be used, among other things, to prevent layoffs of teachers, first responders and other essential public workers that have offset much of the private sector job growth. But that effort did not come up during the debate, and thus the blockage of that bill by House Republicans, and the fact that as a result the economy has been deprived of the more than 1 million jobs the bill would have produced, did not come up either.
The point of injecting specifics like the American Jobs Act into the debate is to lay the foundation for a mandate for bold action after the election, and to put conservative obstructionists in Congress on notice that their Tea Party rigidity, never supported by the majority of voters, has no place in our politics. Neither does a “grand bargain” that constrains the ability of the federal government to use its resources to put people back to work on the enormous amount of work that exists to be done.
President Obama should continue to be pressed to lead the charge for bold, progressive policy prescriptions that would naturally fit onto the framework he is building during the election. But if the president chooses not to lead in that area, we must. In key House and Senate races around the country, there are progressives who are rejecting the right-wing austerity talk that would have middle class and low-income people fixated on federal deficits while they work to enhance the perquisites of the wealthy. We need to amplify and reinforce their voices in the service of a progressive agenda for change.
The Tuesday night debate may have helped President Obama win an election. But we also must win the argument over whether we will have a truly transformed economy or merely a buffed-up version of what we already have. As Greenberg’s memo said, voters are hungry for transformation, and if President Obama and progressives are not the compelling voices of transformation, it will not be surprising that a majority of voices settle for the appearance of change in an empty suit.