Friday, September 16, 2011

Time to Panic?

James Carville deserves some attention, simply because he was one of the architects of Bill Clinton's remarkable 1992 presidential campaign. But his latest advice, as posted in an article on, seems the opposite of the well-thought-out strategy he employed back then. In a word, Carville suggests to the White House that it is time to panic. By that he means fire some people, indict some people, and start showing more fight. This by definition is not a coherent set of policy or strategy proposals. It's more like a symbolic show of doing something different, or even an admission that you have failed and don't know what else to do. If you own a baseball team, for example, and your team starts losing, you might fire the manager or the coach, or somebody, simply to shake things up. Is the Obama administration in that type of losing situation where it needs to take such desperate, symbolic action?

Carville doesn't present any analysis or research supporting his recommendations. I might give it more credence if he could show that he conducted some focus groups of swing voters who indicated that they would be impressed with a management shake-up at this stage of the game. Without some empirical evidence, how do we know that voters would be impressed if the White House started acting like chickens with their heads cut off, and embraced a strategy of fear and panic? I tend to doubt that most voters would view such actions in a positive way.

I also think that Carville probably knows, or should know, that "no drama Obama" is not about to give in to panic. He did not panic when he was way behind in the polls in 2007, and people like James Carville were saying that Hillary Clinton was a lock for the Democratic nomination. He did not panic when he took office in the midst of a horrendous crisis in which the future of the financial industry, and the auto industry, and a few other industries, were in doubt. He did not panic when the Democrats lost a special election in Massachusetts that sent Congressional Democrats into a general panic. And he did not panic when the Democrats took a beating in the 2010 mid-term elections. Why would anybody think the Obama team would panic now? Showing calmness and steadiness got them where they are, and President Obama is still ahead of any other politician in America, including all the Republican contenders, in the polls. So if Carville is making recommendations that he should know the administration is not likely to follow, I have to wonder about his motivations. I will nevertheless give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that he is genuinely trying to be helpful. So thanks James for your suggestions. I'm sure the Obama team will take them into consideration. In fact, the White House has already adopted some new tactics and directions, for example shaking up its Defense team, and its economic team. But it is hard to see how adopting an attitude of panic will help matters.

UPDATE (actual audio of the Carville interview):


  1. I can give you a focus group (n-1) of what swing voters would be impressed by: a real jobs bill that resulted in a conversation about long term job creation.

    I see GE Jeff Immelt (head of Obama's council on job creation) created some more jobs. They secured two deals with Russia that could generate $12 Billion in sales. One deal manufactures gas natural turbines, the other to make and sell medical equipment. BOTH products will be built in Russia!

  2. It is important to point out that neither party in congress has presented a real jobs plan. Nor have any of the republican candidates. Having said that, it is the president who should lead in this endeavor. Who will step up?

  3. I have no idea what you mean by a "real" jobs plan. Honestly. To me, proposing to spend $450 billion on incentives for companies to do more hiring, payroll tax cuts, and infrastructure spending that is guaranteed to put people to work sounds pretty damn real.

  4. What I don't understand and cannot accept is that Obama doesn't have a long term jobs bill that is meant to build careers over the next decade. He has a short term plan and thinks swing voters should accept that as a substitute. They don't. He knows progressives accept it. He knows the far right rejects it. You would think he would talk to those who will decide his future. Not only because it is the right thing to do but because he appears to want to be re-elected.

    Maybe you have to be a swing voter to understand that he is losing swing voters over the economy, by picking winners and losers in business and failing to strutally alter America's ability to create long term jobs/careers.