Historian talks at secret Obama election retreat

Thu Sep 1, 2011 1:11pm EDT

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* Historian cites positive examples of Roosevelt, Reagan

* Persistent unemployment threatens Obama's re-election

WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Aides to President Barack Obama held a secret strategy retreat where they listened to a history lesson from a presidential scholar about past presidents who could serve as models for Obama's re-election effort, Time magazine reported.

Historian Michael Beschloss reportedly gave the team hope with his June presentation about Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and Republican Ronald Reagan, who both won re-election in tough economic times.

According to Time, Beschloss said the strategies the two presidents used were similar: they both made the case that the economy was improving and that their opponents would make things worse.

"Beschloss did not intend to give political advice," the magazine said. "But that is just how his words were received. The president's aides, all but resigned to unemployment above 8 percent on Election Day, now see in Roosevelt and Reagan a plausible path to victory."

The stubbornly high unemployment rate is seen as the single biggest threat to Obama's re-election hopes in 2012. A new CNN/ORD poll released on Thursday showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans disapproved of Obama's handling of the economy.

An administration official confirmed the retreat at Fort McNair Army base in Washington took place but did not say what was discussed. It was organized by White House chief of staff Bill Daley.

Beschloss is the author of several books about the U.S. presidency including "Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989."

Like its predecessors, the Obama White House has sought outside counsel on a variety of issues in the past, including the review of Afghanistan policy in 2009 and the turmoil in the Middle East that has swept aside authoritarian governments and forced Washington to rethink its foreign policy in the region.

The Time report comes as Obama prepares to deliver a speech to Congress next Thursday in which he will outline proposals for reducing the 9.1 percent unemployment rate in a sluggish economy.

His proposals are likely to include infrastructure spending, tax breaks for firms that hire new workers and possibly housing initiatives.

Many of Obama's Democratic allies are urging him to take a more confrontational stance toward Republicans, who control the House of Representatives.

The two parties are sharply at odds over how best to boost economic growth with Democrats advocating a near-term fiscal boost and Republicans pushing budget cuts.

(Writing by Caren Bohan; Editing by Bill Trott)

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