POLITICS
11/18/2010 10:33 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Clinton Advisers Unload On Obama's Economic Message: 'What Were They Thinking?'

WASHINGTON -- Two of the top consultants in the Democratic Party leveled unusually blunt criticisms on Thursday over what they deemed a "total mis-framing" of an economic message by the Obama White House.

Speaking at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Democracy Corps founders James Carville and Stan Greenberg conceded that the party had been bound to suffer a drubbing at the polls in 2010, owing to a recession that had produced a lingering 9.5 percent unemployment rate. But a 60-seat loss in the House could have been something closer to a 35-seat loss, they argued, had the administration effectively communicated a sense of urgency and indignation over the economic crisis.

"During the campaign... their message of 'what we are doing is working,' people would get mad, okay," said Carville. "Most kind of messaging is not very effective, it just goes in one ear out the other. This one, it went in one ear and right to the brain. What were they thinking? It was almost universal. And as opposed to saying 'These irresponsible, greedy people got us into this mess and we are the only thing between you and them, and we are fighting every day and we understand.' We kept telling them, don't tell them it's working... The White House had the best and brightest. But they mis-underestimated this."

"A metaphor about a car in the ditch when people are in trouble and angry at Wall Street is just out of touch with what is going on," Greenberg said, with respect to the president's closing argument during 2010 cycle. Pointing to the polling data he had seen in the lead up to the vote, he added: "At one point, any framework tested better than trying to make the case for success."

It is a tried and true feature of the consulting profession to profess knowledge of the solutions and answers to most political problems, especially after those problems have occurred. And as it was pointed out at later moments, both Carville and Greenberg (both frequent guests at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast) had offered faulty analysis before -- mainly in predicting back in 2008 that the Democratic Party was posed to enter an era of longterm political dominance.

That said, both are veterans of the Clinton White House and, in turn, had front row seats for the last mid-term electoral shellacking Democrats suffered. So the prescriptions they offered carried a modicum of weight. The two insisted that it was too early to demand that heads roll or that policy platforms dramatically change. Those would come with time, as they did after Clinton's major losses in 1994.

"I'm skeptical that there is a parallel Dick Morris," said Greenberg, referencing Clinton's long-trusted adviser (now Fox News analyst and devout conservative) who was brought on board to right the ship after 1994.

They also stressed that there was little in the data to suggest that Republicans had earned the trust of the public. A presidential cycle that still favored Democrats, they argued, could produce dramatically different results in 2012. Greenberg went so far as to insist that control of the House would be up for grabs in the next cycle. What was non-negotiable, the two offered, was sticking with talking points that, for voters, effectively "minimized" their current predicaments.

"I don't think there is any reason why you can't reset and start over," said Greenberg. "Voters are pretty forgiving on leaders... They give you a lot of space and there is still a majority who want Obama to succeed."