Obama's Cunning Speech

Written by David Frum on Friday September 9, 2011

First reactions to the president's big jobs speech:

1) Qua speech, it was excellent - clear, focused, unrhetorical.

The core concept - stressing past Republican approval of the major elements of the proposal - ingeniously put Republicans into an awkward spot. And in fact, the maneuver has had some immediate effect. Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor told em>Politico< tonight that they would approve important elements of the bill.

The speech was tricked out with items cleverly intended to catch the ears of people who might not normally support the president: the promise to pay federal contractors faster, for example, and payroll tax cuts for smaller businesses worth up to $80,000.

2) Qua economics, the proposal looks a lot better than the 2009 stimulus. This new measure is not larded up with the Democratic wish lists and obsolete campaign promises that made such a mess of Stimulus 1. There are no tax rebates here, no Pell grants, only the basic material of a counter-cyclical program: investment tax credits, continuing payroll tax relief, and infrastructure spending.

3) Qua politics? Obama's re-election proposition remains pretty bad, but it's marginally less bad tonight than it was this morning. No, he has not restored the country to prosperity. But he does again at least look like he's trying and like he's defending Medicare and Social Security in the process. If Obama cannot run as the recovery and prosperity candidate, he will try to run as the stability and security candidate against opponents whom he will seek to depict as radical and reckless. Many of his opponents are enthusiastically cooperating with that strategy, including the current Republican presidential front-runner.