By MARK PENN
Published July 19, 2011
At the end of the day, I’d be surprised if there is a government shutdown coming out of the debt-ceiling negotiations — the Republicans learned in 1995 just how devastating that can be. People may want smaller government, but no government is something else entirely.
So President Obama is on firm ground when he pushes back on Republicans holding the country hostage to the debt ceiling, but his message has been puzzling — and even counterproductive — when it comes to the underlying budget fight. Since the Republicans drew him into the debt-ceiling fight, his approval numbers have slipped further; the most recent Gallup polls show him dipping to one of his lowest points since taking office, at 44 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove.
The reason I believe is that he has taken up the right fight, but has the wrong message. What people have heard him say boils down to this — “I’ll cut Medicare if you raise taxes on the wealthy.” It’s a reversal on the long-used Democratic refrain that the Republicans just want to “cut Medicare to lower taxes on the wealthy.”
And it alienates just about everyone. The base is upset that he would cut Medicare, and his upper-income voters (among of his strongest bases) feel targeted. Lost in the process is any message of standing for fiscal responsibility. His primary goal seems not to be fiscal responsibility at all, but higher taxes.