The Establishment Vs. The Public

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers

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While Congress debates the economic recovery package this week, President Obama is touring areas of the country hardest hit by the economic meltdown. Yesterday, Obama spoke in Elkart, IN, a town with a 15 percent unemployment rate, the nation's fastest-rising. Obama will be traveling to Ft. Myers, FL today, which is plagued by a 10 percent unemployment and America's highest foreclosure rate. On Thursday, he will visit Peoria, IL, where Caterpillar has 22,000 job cuts. In the meantime, the debate in Washington has somewhat turned against Obama's recovery package. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) argued that congressional conservatives are "standing up on principle and just saying no" to the recovery bill. The national media have been blindly following right wing talking points, baselessly lambasting Obama's recovery legislation as excessive spending. "A lot of America's high-powered political journalists seem, at least as evidenced by the questions they ask, to have a very poor grasp of macroeconomic issues," observed Center for American Progress Fellow Matthew Yglesias yesterday.

PUBLIC WANTS A REAL RECOVERY: The national media has proclaimed that Obama is "losing [the] stimulus message war." But the perception across the country could not be more different. As a Gallup poll released yesterday noted, "The American public gives President Barack Obama a strong 67% approval rating for the way in which he is handling the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill." Despite conservatives' vocal opposition to the recovery bill, 52 percent favor a roughly $800 billion package, while 38 percent are opposed. Independent voters favor the progressive priorities set forth by Obama: 50 percent independents favor "increased government funding of projects" in the recovery package, compared to only 36 percent who favor "tax cuts for individuals/businesses" promulgated by conservatives. Congressional Republicans, who see political gain from their "party of no" status, have a "staggeringly high" disapproval of 58 percent. Their approval rating is at 44 percent compared to 60 percent for Democrats.

PUSHING THE CONSERVATIVE AGENDA: The media debate over the economic recovery has been reduced to one that is hostile to government spending and increasingly receptive to the conservative "tax-cut-only" line. Yesterday, for example, after Obama's press conference, CBS's Bob Scheiffer told Katie Couric, "He's got to somehow keep [Democrats] from loading up this bill with more spending -- so much spending." "As you know, there's a lot of people in the public, a lot of members of Congress who think this is pork-stuffed and that it really doesn't stimulate. A lot of people have said it's a spending bill and not a stimulus," remarked ABC's Charles Gibson last week. "I'm confused as to why we're being tricked into thinking this is a stimulus bill, when it's packed with welfare programs," said MSNBC's Mika Brzenzski. The list goes on. The Progress Report has conducted two analyses of the debate showing that cable news is helping advance the right wing's message. During the Senate debate, between Feb. 2 and Feb. 5, Republican lawmakers outnumbered Democratic lawmakers 75 to 41 in interviews. During the House debate the week earlier, cable outlets hosted a 2 to 1 ratio of GOP to Democratic lawmakers.

RESTORING CONFIDENCE: Examining "districts that tend to be swing or conservative districts," Rep. Chris Van Hollen's (D-MD) office determined that 92 percent of the local stories portrayed the recovery package in a positive light, "touting the benefits the spending would bring to struggling local economies. Of newspaper stories, 91 percent were positive; TV, 96 percent; and radio, 85 percent." As senior Obama advisor David Axelrod observed, "The American people support [the recovery], and we're urging everyone in Congress to catch up with the people on this one." "I think there's a myopic viewpoint in Washington. And I think Washington needs to understand what happens in Florida, and Indiana, and Michigan, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- states that have seen huge in[creases in] unemployment," added Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Obama's tour of the country seems to be having some benefit in returning public hope. Prior to his visit, the local newspaper -- The Elkhart Truth -- wrote, "We are weak. We are tired. We are frustrated, and sometimes the burdens of our struggles cause us to stop and cry." One day later, the same paper wrote that Obama's visit "brought back some confidence to a community struggling with high unemployment."