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Ron Suskind: Obama’s “Growing Desperation” Could Yield Better Policy

Aaron Task
Daily Ticker

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Declaring the U.S. economy "really needs a jolt right now," President Obama again urged Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs bill during a press conference Thursday.

"What's true is we've also got to rein in our deficits and live within our means, which is why this jobs bill is fully paid for by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share," the President said, restating his support of the so-called Buffett Rule. Obama also said he is "comfortable" with the millionaire's surtax Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has proposed.

"Some see this as class warfare," the President said. "I see it as a simple choice: We can either keep taxes as -- exactly as they are for millionaires and billionaires, with loopholes that lead them to have lower tax rates in some cases than plumbers and teachers, or we can put teachers and construction workers and veterans back on the job."

In addition (or instead of) class warfare, some see this as naked politicking by a President suffering from flagging poll numbers.

"We're legislating. He's campaigning. It's very disappointing," House Speaker John Boehner said in response to Obama's press conference. "Nothing has disappointed me more than what has happened in the last five weeks... To watch the president of the United States give up on governing, give up on leading and just spend time campaigning."

Obama's jobs plans is both economic and campaign policy, according to Ron Suskind, author of (most recently) Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President.

"He's not looking for the perfect policy solution, he's looking at what works politically [and] this millionaire's surtax certainly does," Suskind tells Dan Gross and me in the accompanying video.

Obama's Jobs Plan: Politics vs. Economics

Even if the plan is DOA in the House, polls show the majority of Americans, including Republicans, support higher taxes on the wealthy.

"If he pushes hard on this and the House shuts him down, he can say 'they're in favor of millionaires and I'm in favor of Americans, most who are not in that category,'" Suskind says. "I think this is a dynamic you'll see a lot more of."

That said, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is critical of Obama - both in his book and here - for what he calls a "Hamlet-like quality": The President's failure (or inability) to fully commit to policies he purportedly supports, be it healthcare or financial reform.

"This has been a theme throughout this administration" which as resulted in "a little bit half-measures," he says.

Obama's commitment problem has also contributed to his falling poll numbers, Suskind says, suggesting the President has often failed to back up his rhetoric with related actions, a point made here repeatedly. (See: Obama Lashes Out at "Fat Cat Bankers," But Talk Is Cheap)

Citing a "growing desperation" in the White House about Obama's reelection prospects, Suskind expects the President to become more forceful and combative in the days and weeks ahead. "Necessity is the mother of invention," he says. "I would say he has a 'long-shot possibility'; he's at his best when the odds are longest. That often is the moment he summons the kind of clarity, innovation and firmness...that has brought him to the presidency."

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @atask or email him at altask@yahoo.com

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