WASHINGTON - President Obama and his top campaign officials have mapped out a new 2012 reelection strategy: run against an unpopular Congress.
Obama, whose job approval polls have been relentlessly stuck at around 43 percent for much of last year, thinks he can convince enough voters that Congress is the cause of all the economic ills that still plague our country.
That's right, the man Mitt Romney has been calling "the great complainer," "the great blamer," "the great excuse giver," will run on a campaign platform that his policies are blameless. Its all the fault of Congress who won't pass his latest economic stimulus plan to borrow and spend more money and raise taxes on investors, small businesses and corporations.
Forget about those lofty promises Obama made in his 2008 campaign speeches about stopping the bickering and changing the tone in Washington. White House aides told reporters last week that he is going to "double down" on what they call an "outside strategy" -- that he is fighting for the middle class against a do-nothing Congress that has become the paymaster of wealthy special interests.
It's going to get ugly, too, because when you attack the Congress, that includes everyone in it -- the Democrats who run the Senate and Republicans who control the House. What will Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi say about that?
But Obama and his aides think the best politics this year is to stay above the fray on Capitol Hill. He doesn't exactly say this, but the implied message to his fellow Democrats -- who will likely lose the Senate in November -- is, "You're on your own."
"In terms of the president's relationship with Congress in 2012... the president is no longer tied to Washington," deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told the Washington Post over the holidays.
No longer tied to Washington? Does he really think he can just walk away from three years of impotent economic stimulus bills and the voters will forget what he proposed, or that it didn't work? Or that he will be able to campaign around the country and ignore the economic and fiscal issues Congress will be dealing with over the course of the coming year?
Obama's legislative war cry last year -- "we can't wait" -- apparently has been changed to "You're gonna have to wait until I'm reelected."
But if he thinks he'll be able to convince enough voters that Congress is to blame for what ails us and that he's kept his promises, Republicans have a lethal counter-offensive strategy ready and waiting to strike back.
For months now, an army of opposition researchers at the Republican National Committee have been digging up every exuberant, exaggerated claim Obama has made in behalf of his policies. Those words are going to be thrown back at him between now and November, reminding the voters that he made over-the-top promises that remain unfulfilled. Among them:
-- That his $800 billion spending stimulus bill would lift two million Americans out of poverty. In fact, the Census Bureau tells us that over six million Americans have fallen below the poverty income line during the past three years of his presidency.
-- That his home foreclosure assistance program would "help between 7 and 9 million families restructure or refinance their mortgages." Actually, his administration has spent a great deal less than it promised and helped only 2 million, at best.
-- In his 2008 nomination acceptance address to the Democratic national convention, Obama said his plan to invest $80 billlion in clean technologies would create five million new jobs. So far, the money spent on the projects has produced nowhere near that jobs figure and has come under investigation for bankrolling loans sought by wealthy donors to Obama's campaign.
Internal government documents obtained by a House oversight committee found that the program was heavily politicized, and included a fat loan to a solar panel business publicly promoted by Obama that later went bankrupt, costing taxpayers half a billion dollars. A Post investigation last month found that the program "was infused with politics at every level."
-- Appearing on the NBC Today Show in 2009, Obama said that if the economy did not recover within three years, "then there's going to be a one-term president."
These and other Obama remarks will be the source for a tidal wave of Republican videos on television and the Internet over the ensuing year. But none will be more ubiquitous than his claims that he's stablized and turned the economy around since its plunge into the Great Recession.
But official government data draws a starkly different picture: A nearly 9 percent national unemployment rate; a weak economic growth rate that's barely creeping along at a snail's pace 1.8 percent; and millions of discouraged workers giving up and leaving the labor force because they cannot find jobs.
That's the sober reality of the dismal Obama economy: weak capital investment, banks reluctant to lend, home values continuing to decline, college graduates unable to find jobs, and nearly a dozen states permanently stuck in double-digit unemployment.
A recent RNC ad uses Obama's own words to indict his performance as president. An Internet spot titled "It's Been Three Years" shows candidate Obama saying the "real question" is whether or not Americans will be better off in four years.
The ad flashes forwards to a one-on-one interview with ABC News analyst George Stephanopoulos last October in which Obama says "I don't think they're better off than they were four years ago."