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Robert K. Lifton Headshot

How Obama Can Win by Losing

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OBAMA JOBS PLAN
AP

President Obama can win the election in 2012 by losing the fight to Republicans for his jobs bill and related tax measures.

If the Republicans were to defeat the American Jobs Act, presented by the president as a plan to save existing jobs and create new ones, then the upcoming presidential election will likely see the president identify the Republican candidate, whoever it may be, with the Republican Party and run against the Republican House and Senate members led by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Looking at the recent polling data from the New York Times/CBSNews poll, this can be a very effective political campaign, even though at first blush the President's support looks like it is weakening.

Here are key elements of the polling data that suggest an effective path for the Obama campaign:

The starting point is the fact that the polls showed considerable support for the jobs package including high levels of support (87 percent) for spending money on the nation's infrastructure and solid support (56 percent) for funding state governments to curtail layoffs.

While the polls show a decline in support from Obama's Democratic base, it is clear that some part of the decline reflects the fact that the base wants him to show more "backbone" in taking on the Republicans. And while the President has failed to win the approval of independent voters that he has been seeking so assiduously, two facts are important.

First, that voters' disapproval of the Republicans in Congress is far higher than the disapproval of the president. The president's approval rating was 43 percent, while the Republicans in Congress rating was 19 percent approval (with 28 percent for Democrats.) Second, there has been no coalescing of support for any of the Republican candidates. Many in the electorate are "not entirely in step with the campaign messages of the party's candidates."

The poll also shows that a large part of the nation believes that creating jobs should be a higher priority than cutting spending and that a deficit reduction plan should include a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. Now, the president is calling for a new minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year to ensure that they pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers.

The thrust of the campaign is clear to see. The president has already started the campaign by visiting various sections of the country and emphasizing the benefits of his jobs plan. In his speech before the House presenting the plan he set the stage for blaming the Republicans for political motivation in not acting on the plan, noting that there was nothing in it that had not been approved by them before and that the Republican's aim to wait 14 months until the election was contrary to the dire needs of the unemployed who cannot afford to wait those 14 months.

The campaign will treat the Republican candidate as part of the Republican leadership and liable for the same blame for failing to enact legislation that is necessary to create jobs. While the Republican candidate will offer his/her recommendations for creating jobs, listening to their ideas, so far, it is not likely that any compelling program will be offered -- other than the uninspiring arguments for reducing the deficit and eliminating regulations that burden business.

Whether you agree with it or not, the idea that getting "government out of the way to allow business to create jobs" does not sound like a convincing enough course of action in a nation that is frightened of the future and dubious of the country's ability to create sufficient jobs. The campaign will certainly emphasize the need to increase taxes on the wealthy to help pay for the jobs bill costs and to reduce deficits.

To be sure, the Republican leaders are aware of this potential strategy and are trying to find a way to thwart it by showing a willingness to support certain components of the bill, while rejecting main elements. As reported in the New York Times, (Sept. 17, 2011 p. A12,) House Republican leaders are telling their rank and file members that they would approve the extension of the payroll tax holiday for employees and small businesses, the ability of business to expense the cost of certain properties and tax credits for business that hire veterans, as well as protection for small businesses against certain types of securities regulation.

But even if the Republican "Tea Party" members and other hard liners allow their representatives to approve these measures, which is not by any means certain, clearly the Republicans will reject the key job creating programs -- such as funding for state and local governments to prevent layoffs of certain groups of employees, funds for school construction, rehabilitation of homes and spending for infrastructure.

A particular problem for the Republicans is the proposed tax increase on millionaires, named the "Buffet Rule" because it reflects the comments of Warren Buffet about the unfairness of the tax system where he and other rich people pay a smaller share of their income than middle-income workers. This approach is likely to garner strong support from the electorate.

Moreover, as noted in my recent Huffington Post article "Why America's Rich Should (and Many Do) Support A Tax Increase," even many wealthy people will line up behind such a tax program. Republican legislators and the Republican presidential candidate, however, will find themselves stuck with their "no tax increase" pledges, foreclosed from any compromise that involves tax increases -- even on the wealthy and even coupled with spending reductions. This can be a focal issue in the election.

The Times/CBS poll showed "two-thirds of Americans from broad majorities across party lines as doubtful that Congressional Democrats and Republicans will be able to reach an agreement on a job creation package." When that expectation turns out to be correct, the issue will be who is to blame.

If Obama can effectively place the blame on the Republicans as so committed to a highly conservative base that they are inflexible even in the face of the severe problems facing the nation, he may well be able to divert attention from the present disapproval of his efforts in handling the economy and job creation. He could win that contest.

Mr. Lifton, a business man and political activist, is writing a book entitled "Life's Lessons and Stories from a Member of the "Greatest Generation.'"

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