By: Michael Shear
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In his fundraising speech in Atlanta on Monday, Obama made the political argument that is the foundation of the Democratic message this fall, but with a twist. Like before, he said the election this fall is a choice, between going forward (with his policies) or going backward (to those of the Republicans). But then he added a line that he hasn't used much since the campaign.
"They don't have a single idea that's different from George Bush's ideas -- not one," he said, invoking the former president directly by name and linking the GOP of today to his unpopular predecessor.
That message tracks closely with, though is probably not a result of, a recent poll making the rounds on Capitol Hill in the past several days. Paid for by the liberal-leaning Third Way think tank and conducted by Democratic pollster Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group, the poll had some interesting findings.
Chief among them was this startling nugget: that only 25 percent of the Americans surveyed thought that the current Republican leadership wanted to return to the economic policies of the Bush administration.
If true, that would appear to undercut the basic Democratic message for the election. In an interview Tuesday, Brodnitz said that "voters don't necessarily assume that today's Republicans will repeat the policies of the past. I personally feel like today's Republicans are getting away with murder."
The answer, Brodnitz said, is for Democrats to become much more explicit about connecting the Republicans of this Congress to Bush's policies, from which the country sharply departed at the end of 2008.
"When people understand that's the choice, it favors Obama," he said. "We really have to point out that is the choice." (Like maybe saying that the current GOP doesn't have a "single idea" that is different from Bush? Where have we heard that before?)
But there's a danger in heading too far in that direction. Elections are about the future, not the past, and making the 2010 elections all about Bush risks trying to replay the last election when the voters have moved on.
Surveys have suggested that people believe Obama owns the economy now, despite a recognition of how bad things were when he started. Blaming Bush was the centerpiece of the 2006 election cycle and again in 2008. A third time may not be a charm.
Brodnitz argues there's a way to do both. "An effective way to do it is to show that in the future, what you're looking at is going back to the failed policies of the past."
It seems like the president and his allies are prepared to make that argument. Whether it works or not will be determined in about three months.
The future is now
And if there was any doubt that the message will be oft-repeated, here's the advance guidance from the White House about the president's remarks Wednesday morning to the AFL-CIO.
"The president will discuss the steps we have taken to rebuild the economy and create jobs, and the fact that while we have a long way to go, we are headed in the right direction. The president will continue to lay out the choice we face on the economy today: whether to move forward on new ways to create jobs and strengthen our recovery, or go back to the failed policies of the past that led to a decade of economic insecurity for the middle class, culminating in a recession that has cost 8 million jobs."