The White House is struggling to talk about a weak recovery in terms Americans — who may not feel the recovery — can identify with, and veterans of the Clinton Administration criticized President Obama's political team yesterday for failing to present a more aggressive plan to improve life for the middle class.
In 1994, Democrats faced a similar challenge, and a C-SPAN roundtable mulled the issue.
One of its members, Democratic consultant David Axelrod, sounded then a bit like the Clintonites do today.
"One of the interesting things about this is that as you cite these statistics that say the economy is improving, you almost do political damage to yourself. If you stand up and claim great progress you’re only frustrating this alienated middle class more," Axelrod said.
The moderator, John Callaway, noted that Ronald Reagan had been able to talk up the economy in 1984, while George H. W. Bush had been unable to in 1992.
"Bush tastelessly did it often from the ninth hole and from the cigar boat and other places. And the impression you got was that he was out of touch," Axelrod said.
"You still like to beat up on Bush?” Callaway asked.
“It’s the only thing we have left," Axelrod responded.
Axelrod is now Obama's chief strategist, of course, and is reliving the Democratic debates over how to talk about the economy. In 1996, a new set of Clinton aides led by Dick Morris, Mark Penn, and Doug Schoen, successfully persuaded the president to move from feeling voters' pain to cheerleading a recovery, a successfully strategy at a moment of more cheerful economic indicators.