The Obama Non-Paradox

Yesterday’s silly Politico article about how it’s strange that Obama + large Democratic majorities = legislation passes whereas Obama + giant recession = not-so-popular president would have been a great opportunity for a smarter publication to lay this out correctly. Instead, Jon Chait observes that the NYT had Sheryl Gay Stolberg double down on this notion:

If passage of the financial regulatory overhaul on Thursday proves anything about President Obama, it is this: He knows how to push big bills through a balky Congress. But Mr. Obama’s legislative success poses a paradox: while he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.

This stuff bothers me because it’s clear Democrats will lose a lot of seats in November, and then there’s going to be a narrative that they did so because they were too liberal. The truth is that Democrats would be in better shape politically if the economy were growing more strongly. Now perhaps the economy would grow more if Obama were less liberal, but that’s the argument that needs to be made. I think the economy would grow more if Obama had gotten congress to pass reconciliation instructions allowing more stimulus, and if he’d been more aggressive about staffing the Federal Reserve Board with pro-growth members. And I think that “centrist” members of congress have largely spent the past 18 months shooting themselves in the foot, waffling and delaying everything in a manner with no political upside when they should have been telling the president “we want to help you do whatever Christina Romer and Larry Summers think will end the the recession as quickly as possible.”