Obama’s bite-size initiatives reminiscent of Clinton reelection

ObamaThe series of economic initiatives announced by President Obama in recent days reflects a strategic and tactical shift that White House officials hope will guide the president’s governing and political agenda in the months ahead.

The new effort, carried out through unilateral executive actions, was agreed upon weeks ago and is strongly reminiscent of a successful campaign deployed by Bill Clinton in the run-up to his 1996 reelection.Almost every day this week, Obama rolled out a program aimed at some troubled sector of the economy: mortgage relief for homeowners Monday, tax credits to spur job growth for veterans Tuesday, college loan relief for students Wednesday, regulatory and information shortcuts for small businesses Friday.

The plan-a-day strategy is an approach designed to portray Obama as decisive as the White House complains about Congress’s failure to pass his jobs bill. Senior administration aides said they expected the effort to continue as long as Congress balks at his proposals.House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted that the president’s effort will fail, saying that the economy will need more help to recover than can be accomplished through unilateral White House action.“If the president wants to put people back to work, he’s going to have to engage in the legislative process and work with us to find common ground. It’s that simple,” Boehner said. A Boehner aide said the speaker had not been notified in advance about the executive actions.

Obama’s focus on immediate action to address problems is also intended to provide a contrast with his prospective Republican rivals, who are waging a heated battle over what they would do in January 2013. Obama officials said that planning for his second-term agenda is in its infancy. They added that advisers are just starting to work on the president’s 2012 State of the Union address, which will lay the foundation for the broader issues agenda in the campaign.“That’s part and parcel of having the responsibility of governing,” said longtime adviser David Axelrod. “When you’re the incumbent president, you have to deal with the day-to-day challenges of the country; you have to act. You don’t have the luxury of sitting back and waiting.”

Mark Penn, who ran the successful 1996 Clinton campaign, praised the new Obama approach. “I thought what he did with the mortgages was the most Clintonesque thing I’ve seen,” Penn said. “You’ve got to repeat that 100 times for people to notice, because it doesn’t have the advantage of going to a joint session of Congress, but it does send the right message to the right people.”In Clinton’s case, the initiatives were derided for being small — “McIssues” — and for pandering to the political center. Yet they worked, helping him overcome the doubts about his presidency raised by the sweeping Republican victory in the 1994 midterm election.Even Republicans who question the economic effectiveness of the Obama initiatives acknowledge that they could be a politically smart move. – WP