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Pivot-man

Bill Mazeroski, the old Pittsburgh Pirates second-baseman, is generally considered (at least by my generation) to be the best pivot-man in history. But President Obama is closing fast. In addition to his well-publicized “pivot” to Asia on defense policy, we have witnessed at least a dozen pivots to the economy.

But does the public want a president who is constantly “pivoting”? To me it suggests that Obama can’t keep his focus. Get this man some Ritalin.

The latest news of a pivot to the economy comes today. The NRCC has compiled a list of 11 predecessor pivots:

“Obama Pivots to Jobs Tour at End of Scandal Filled Week” (ABC News, 5/18/13)

“Obama’s Texas Trip An Attempt To Refocus On Jobs, Economy” (Washington Times, 5/8/13)

“Obama: State Of The Union To Focus On Jobs” (USA Today, 2/8/13)

“Obama Turns To Congress For Jobs Help” (The New York Times, 6/1/12)

“Obama Turns Attention To Economy After Fundraising Pitch (Associated Press, 5/11/12)

“Fresh Off Debt-Ceiling Brawl, Dems Pivot To Talk About Jobs” (The Hill, 8/3/11)

“Obama To Focus On Jobs” (San Jose Mercury News, 1/23/11)

“Obama To Focus On Jobs, Spending In State Of The Union Speech (The Tennessean, 1/27/10)

“Hill Democrats Set To Pivot To Job Creation” (Washington Times, 1/25/10)

“Obama Pivots To Jobs As Key Theme” (Politico, 1/8/10)

“Obama Turns Focus To Job Creation” (Associated Press, 12/5/09)

What do these pivots mean? Most of them, including the latest, simply mean that Obama will talk more about the economy — in other words, he will try to change the conversation

It’s reasonable for Obama to want to change the conversation to the economy. For although the economy isn’t setting the world on fire, it’s a bright spot for the administration compared to other matters that have dominated the public discussion recently.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll recently found that 56 percent of Americans believe the economy is improving. That’s the highest number since early 2009. And it exceeds, presumably, the percentage of Americans who believe Obamacare implementation is working out well or that the administration is above reproach ethically.

Talking about the economy also enables Obama to play offense against Republicans in ways he cannot do on other major issues. Obama has his theory on the economy; the Republicans have theirs. Obama typically has fared well politically when the two theories have clashed.

Republicans can’t successfully be demonized for pointing to various administration scandals or for pointing to problems in the implementation of the perennially unpopular Obamacare. But they can be, and have been, successfully demonized for some of their key economic positions.

Look, then, for Obama to cast his economic message in populist terms. As the Washington Post points out, he will give the first speech in this latest “pivot” at Knox College in Illinois, where in 2005, as a Senator, he attacked Republicans for being Social Darwinists. The White House has posted video of that speech on its website.

I doubt that the Republicans have much to fear from the president’s pivot. The economy is the economy; it gets no better or worse by being discussed. And the Republican positions on the economy don’t focus right now on tax rates for the well-to-do, but rather mostly on the budget and the debt. Here, Republicans are on decent political footing, especially since the sequester hasn’t produced the horrors that Obama predicted.

But if Obama feels the need to be out-and-about talking about something (as surely he does), he’s smart to talk about the economy.

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