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Politics, palaver, and presidential 'pivots'
Maybe it's time to declare a moratorium on political analysis of presidential "pivots." It's a little too easy, and it overlooks the scope of Obama's agenda.
By Steve Benen
But where some see White House priorities, others see "pivots."
The White House, for at least the fifth time this year, is seeking to pivot to the economy, this time in a bid to change the subject from the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare. It's a common play for the White House, which frequently seeks to refocus attention on its jobs and infrastructure agenda when facing political crises. The move is so familiar that NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd has dubbed it the "deja pivot." The Hill counted at least five times the White House has sought to pivot to the economy this year by reviewing news accounts. Republicans, citing their own statistics, argue that President Obama has circled back to the economy at least 14 times since 2011.
According to The Hill's analysis, there's a "formula" the White House has come to rely on: whenever there's political trouble, officials "promote the president's economic agenda." It's a never-ending series of "pivots."
That's one way to look at it, but it's not the only way.
While I'm sure if I looked back through the archives closely enough, I'd find instances in which I've talked about presidential "pivots," too, I'm starting to think this line of thought is a little too easy.
If Obama's talking about foreign policy, we're told, "Clearly the president is pivoting from domestic troubles." If Obama's talking about immigration, we hear, "This is evidence of Obama pivoting from health care." If Obama's talking about the economy, the pundits say, "Obama's obviously pivoting again."
Maybe. Or perhaps the president's just trying to advance his various policy ideas?
Indeed, read that excerpted sentence again: "Republicans, citing their own statistics, argue that President Obama has circled back to the economy at least 14 times since 2011." But I'd argue that the point is self-defeating -- if Obama renews his focus on economic growth and job creation every month or two, then he's not really "circling back" so much as he's sticking to his economic message.
Agree with him or not, the president has an ambitious agenda and a number of top priorities, and he hopes to help advance his issues by using his high-profile platform. But every time he addresses a policy goal, we need not see this as a "pivot" from some other policy goal -- they're all part of the same platform, which really doesn't change much.
Some of this, I suspect, is an extension of the media's assumption that the president is eager to downplay health care in light of the deeply troubled open-enrollment period, but even that's not really the case. Did folks hear his speech in California yesterday?
"[Y[es, we are going to continue to implement the health care law. The product is good. People want it. And we should not live in a country where people are going bankrupt just because they get sick. And anybody who is going to keep on pushing against that, they will meet my resistance, because I am willing to fix any problems that there are, but I'm not going to abandon people to make sure that they've got health insurance in this country. [...] "I read a really powerful story over the weekend I just want to mention about uninsured folks in Kentucky who are signing up in droves in one of the poorest counties in the country. Some of them can't imagine what having health insurance would be like. And you read these stories and you realize how important it is for folks in Kentucky -- a state, by the way, that did not vote for me -- and if Kentucky can do it, than every state should be able to do it. "We should be able to expand Medicaid all across the country. There are millions of people who, right now, even under the law, may not get health care that they deserve because their governors have refused to do it just for political reasons -- expanding Medicaid. Fortunately, California, obviously, is not one of them. But this is a fight that we're going to keep fighting, because it's worth fighting."
I don't hear a president pivoting; I hear a president fighting for his priorities. There's a real difference between the two.