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Today, a new band of Mayberry Machiavellis has gained control, counseling President Obama to ignore the advice of his economic team and press forward with deficit reduction ahead of job creation.
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told the New York Times recently that “it’s my job to report what the public mood is.” The public mood, said Axelrod, is anti-spending and anti-deficit and so the smart politics is to alleviate those concerns. “I’ve made the point that as a matter of policy and a matter of politics that we need to focus on this, and the president certainly agrees with that,” said Axelrod of the deficit hawkery that the administration has engaged in over the last several months.
It’s an odd political strategy because Axelrod knows that if it succeeds, it will be both bad policy and bad politics. He said as much when asked about the pressure from economic advisers to focus on stimulus and job creation. “I’m very much allied with the economic group, because even as a political matter it would be very shortsighted to take steps that would send us backward,” he said.
But the Mayberries have already taken those steps: by using the bully pulpit to highlight deficit fears, by proposing an across-the-board spending freeze, by creating a commission to reduce the deficit and stacking it with hawks, by making it clear to progressive allies that the White House political team believes a deficit-reduction focus is important for the midterm elections. The one recent effort by the President to pressure Congress to move forward with jobs-related spending came in a letter sent on a Saturday evening that was met with derision on the Hill for its ham-handedness.