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Telling the Recovery Story: Obama Hits the Road to Tout Economy

Image: US President Obama delivers remarks at an event for the Senior Executive Service- DC

epa04521830 US President Barack Obama speaks at an event for the Senior Executive Service at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC, USA, 09 December 2014. The Senior Executive Service (SES) is composed of the senior leadership of the Federal workforce. EPA/Olivier Douliery / POOL Olivier Douliery / POOL / EPA

On “Meet the Press” last November, after Republicans had walloped Democrats in the midterm elections, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick highlighted this political shortcoming of his good friend President Obama: He doesn’t sell his accomplishments well. “You know, this is a president who's presided over explosive growth in corporate profits, in stock market returns, employment that's come back strong,” Patrick said. “And one problem I think that the president has is that he doesn't tell that story very well or very regularly.” Well, Obama is now trying to tell that story a bit better. It started with his year-end news conference last month. And it continues as he hits the road today (Michigan), tomorrow (Arizona), and Friday (Tennessee). At 3:45 pm ET today, Obama delivers a speech at a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, MI to tout the automobile industry’s turnaround after the federal government’s auto rescue. In Phoenix tomorrow, he’ll trumpet how the housing industry has improved. And in Tennessee on Friday, he’ll talk education and manufacturing.

That’s an easier job to do when there’s mostly good economic news

One reason why the White House feels more confident in touting the economy is that the country has seen its longest stretch of good economic news during Obama’s presidency. And that’s been reflected in a media that usually emphasizes bad news over good news. Here’s a sampling of some local news headlines across the country, per NBC’s Shaquille Brewster:

These are NON-political stories -- meaning, they are stories about the economy that don’t have the stank of Washington being behind them, so readers are more likely to believe it. And of course, the lower gas prices have meant more cash in people’s pockets. When talking about the economy, Obama usually emphasizes the progress the country has made since he first took office -- but he then stresses how many Americans still aren’t feeling the recovery. If the economy continues at its current pace, if gases prices remain where they are, and if these kind of headlines keep popping up, don’t be surprised if he starts dropping the “BUT”… Also, don’t underestimate the impact on the American psyche that there aren’t millions and millions of dollars of negative TV ads on the airwaves. Without millions being spent, we’re seeing public opinion about the president and the economy drift to a more politically manageable place for the White House.

Obama’s pre-State of the Union tour

Obama’s three-day road trip, however, isn’t just about the economy; it also represents Obama’s pre-State of the Union tour. “This year, President Obama is doing something he's never done before: he’s laying out some of his State of the Union message and policies ahead of his address to Congress on January 20th,” White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer writes in an op-ed for Medium. “Typically, we try to hold all the news until the day of the speech. And there will still be plenty of moments on the big night. But this year, we figured there’s no time like the present.” Yet one of the reasons why the president is hitting the road BEFORE the State of the Union rather than AFTER is because Obama is traveling to India a few days after his Jan. 20 speech.

Terror attack in Paris

While today’s biggest American political story is Obama and the economy, the top story the world is watching is the apparent terror attack in Paris. NBC News: “Twelve people were killed when gunmen stormed a French satirical news magazine Wednesday which has published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. France raised its terror threat level following the shooting at Charlie Hebdo in central Paris and stepped up security for media organizations, large stores and places of worship. ‘We will find the people who did this,’ French President Francois Hollande said. ‘France is today shocked by this terrorist attack.’” It is worth emphasizing how journalists have become some of the biggest targets of terrorists.

Boehner’s revenge

So what do you do after 25 members of your own party vote against you – but you still remain speaker of the House? You try to get revenge: Here’s Politico: “After he secured his third term as speaker Tuesday afternoon, losing 25 votes on the House floor to some relative-unknown members of the Republican Conference, Boehner moved swiftly to boot two of the insurgents [Reps. Daniel Webster and Rich Nugent] from the influential Rules Committee. That could be just the start of payback for the speaker’s betrayers, who might see subcommittee chairmanships and other perks fall away in the coming months.” Of course, we remember when Boehner tried to penalize past insurgents -- and that didn’t necessarily make it easier for him in corralling these conservatives. Yet to understand why there’s anti-Boehner sentiment among conservative Republicans, just check out the Facebook comments to Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s (R-SC) post why he chose to vote FOR Boehner. These are the conservative GOP voters that Jeb Bush is going to have to navigate through if he indeed makes a White House run.

Jeb vs. Christie

Speaking of Jeb, it’s striking to note the difference between Jeb Bush’s recent actions over the past month and Chris Christie’s. Jeb has put his foot on the pedal (establishing his leadership PAC, putting out his mission statement), while Christie has been, well, hanging out with Jerry Jones in his owner’s luxury box at Dallas Cowboys games. In fairness to Christie, he’s traveling to more than half a dozen states this month for the swearing in of GOP governors. But 2016 hardly looks to be on Christie’s mind, while it’s Jeb’s top focus. And the Washington Post is the latest news organization to note how Jeb is dictating the pace of the presidential race on the Republican side. “Jeb Bush’s rapid moves to jump-start fundraising and organizing for a possible 2016 presidential run are accelerating the timelines of other prospective GOP candidates and creating tumult within the still-forming field.”

The first victim of Jeb’s clear presidential maneuvers: Mitt Romney

Oh, and there’s one more consequence of Jeb’s early -- and obvious -- presidential maneuvers: You haven’t heard another peep about Mitt Romney. Indeed, the first real victim of the Jeb-in-waiting campaign has been Romney; no one is talking about him anymore. The folks who were most intrigued about a third Romney run where big donors; and those donors like Jeb… in some cases, like Jeb.. A LOT.

Jeb Bush and the return of “Compassionate Conservatism”?

Finally, don’t miss the piece by one of us noting how Jeb Bush’s PAC mission statement sounds A LOT like his brother’s domestic rhetoric from the 2000 presidential campaign. In five paragraphs, Jeb outlines his rationale if he indeed runs:

  • He talked about the need for economic mobility ("to move up the income ladder based on merit, hard work and earned success -- is the central moral promise of American economic life");
  • He mentioned the need to fix the nation's immigration system;
  • He talked about educational choice and accountability;
  • He embraced diversity ("We will not cede an inch of territory — no issues, no demographic groups, no voters");
  • And he emphasized the need to do all of these things through conservative ideas ("We believe in the transformative power of conservative ideas to renew America")

Of course, many of those lines are standard operating procedure for politicians – Democrat and Republican. But they also sound a lot like his brother George W. Bush’s “Compassionate Conservative” platform during his 2000 bid.

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