Pivot Watch

Here’s the latest dance step in Barack Obama’s post-Massachusetts “pivot.” It’s an old-school chestnut:

President Barack Obama intends to propose a three-year freeze on spending that accounts for one-sixth of the federal budget — a move meant to quell rising voter concern over the deficit but whose practical impact will be muted.

….The White House will propose a three-year freeze on discretionary spending unrelated to the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs, according to senior administration officials. Also untouched are big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The freeze would affect $447 billion in spending, or 17% of the total federal budget, and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. It’s designed to save $250 billion over the coming decade, compared to what would have been spent had this area been allowed to rise along with inflation.

Whatever. Just to be clear: $250 billion over the coming decade, even if Obama miraculously makes this work,1 is $250 billion out of a projected deficit of, oh, let’s call it $10 trillion in round numbers. In other words, about 2 or 3 percent.

And in return for what? The liberal base now has yet another reason to be disgusted with Obama, so the obvious hope is that independents are going to lap this up. And who knows? Maybe they will. But what I wonder is this: hasn’t Obama’s pivot happened too quickly to seem like anything other than what it increasingly is: a panicky and transparent attempt to recover from the Massachusetts tsunami? Given that, is anyone going to buy it? Or is it just going to come across as a thinly veiled and poll approved effort to “connect” with voter angst without really doing anything substantive?

Beats me. In the past, I’ve been pretty astonished by the willingness of voters to take politicians at their word no matter how plainly their words are politically motivated. So maybe it will work. But I have my doubts.

POSTSCRIPT: And just to repeat myself: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this level of political panic grip a party so fast over a single election loss. It’s just remarkable. Yes, I know Dems were getting nervous before last week’s election, and Scott Brown’s victory just opened the floodgates, so to speak. But still. I’ve just never seen anything quite like this. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s never happened in recent memory or because I just haven’t followed politics closely for long enough. Perhaps some political reporter with more experience can school me on this.

1Matt Yglesias lays out pretty clearly here why it probably won’t.

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