President Obama turns left

December 13, 2013 0 Comments

President Barack Obama wants to sound like a different kind of Democrat.

He’s connecting to progressive populism with an aggressive, spending-oriented, activist government approach to the economy personified by Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. Obama’s already backed raising the minimum wage, the start of what White House officials say will be a 2014 domestic agenda — including his State of the Union address and budget — that centers around income inequality and what the government is doing to increase economic mobility.

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That means changing how he talks about some familiar items, including the Affordable Care Act and the universal pre-kindergarten plan from his 2013 State of the Union, as well as pitching an array of new proposals flowing from this new emphasis.

Obama needs his base invested to help him recover from his low poll numbers and give his party a platform as Democrats try to make the House competitive and hold onto to their majority in the Senate. And those in the coalition that won Obama two elections — young people, African-Americans, Latinos, single women and immigrants — are precisely the ones hit hardest by the doldrum economy.

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The Dow keeps breaking records while unemployment’s still at 7 percent. Bankers are getting bigger bonuses while a Bloomberg News poll Wednesday showed 64 percent of people saying America no longer offers an equal shot. Angry voters have elected the tea party, and they’ve elected de Blasio mayor of New York, put Warren in her Senate seat and Ted Cruz in his. People who’ve watched Obama and recent election results closely say there is a danger of the country — and the Democratic Party — getting past him.

The president has been paying attention to the kind of response generated by Warren and de Blasio, the latter one of several new mayors meeting with Obama at the White House on Friday.

“He senses the same thing they do,” said a White House official.

Last week, Obama warned of “a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain,” adding, “I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.”

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Many Democrats in Congress say Obama is getting the party back to where it should have been.

“The guy running for mayor in New York made this a big theme, and he won, so I think it makes sense to focus on it,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who’s running for reelection next year. “This is a time to be talking about these kinds of things. I’m going to be talking about them.”

The White House shift has already been felt. Larry Summers withdrew from consideration to be the new Federal Reserve chairman, with Janet Yellen getting the job instead. John Podesta’s hiring as the new senior counselor to the president has liberals thinking they have a man on the inside to push an economic progressive agenda. And Obama successfully lobbied Democratic senators to change the filibuster rules that were holding up his executive branch and judicial nominees.

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The left is also pointing to Sherrod Brown’s reelection in Ohio and Tammy Baldwin’s win in Wisconsin as evidence of the broad reach of their government-spending, Wall Street-restraining argument, along with their own polls showing support in swing states for ideas like expanding Social Security and cutting corporate subsidies, and independent polls that show broad bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage.

There’s debate over what polls about ideals without explanations for how to pay for them actually prove, but White House focus groups reflect that the strong support for the minimum wage has a lot to do with why the president kicked off his new agenda by embracing an increase.

Obama used a December 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kan., to set a tone for his reelection, and his argument to raise taxes to pay for more spending was central to the campaign. But that’s dissipated over the course of the following year.

“The president’s right now where he should have been coming out of the presidential election, because he was that way going into the presidential election,” said Brown, who said he has had preliminary conversations with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough about policy ideas for the State of the Union.

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