Advancing a Free Society

“Morning in America,” Mourning in the Rose Garden

Friday, July 8, 2011

Barack Obama wasn’t the first U.S. president to take to the White’s House Rose Garden, as he did Friday, in an attempt to assure the public that the economy will come around.

But in the aftermath of a June jobs report that defies even the most nefarious political spin – 18,000 jobs created last month vs. 105,000 expected by economists; unemployment rising from 9.1% to 9.2% – there’s a legitimate question as to whether such press avails accomplish anything other than digging a deeper political hole.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin says it best:

The speech, if you can call it that, seemed to be a disconnected collage of one-liners and excuses. He started off by explaining that “the debate here in Washington has been dominated by issues of debt limit, but what matters most to Americans, and what matters most to me as President, in the wake of the worst downturn in our lifetimes, is getting our economy on a sounder footing more broadly so the American people can have the security they deserve.” Is he saying he’s working on something the public doesn’t care about? Not clear. Later he tied the two together, adopting the GOP position that the failure to address the debt in impairing growth. (“The problems in Greece and in Europe, along with uncertainty over whether the debt limit here in the United States will be raised, have also made businesses hesitant to invest more aggressively.”)

And throughout his tone alternated between dismissiveness (“We’ve always known that we’d have ups and downs on our way back from this recession”) to hectoring (“There are bills and trade agreements before Congress right now that could get all these ideas moving. All of them have bipartisan support. All of them could pass immediately. And I urge Congress not to wait”). Despite a boatload of evidence that government spending is not the way forward, he still insists that more “investment” is needed: “We’ve got to rein in our deficits and get the government to live within its means, while still making the investments that help put people to work right now and make us more competitive in the future.”

With the presidential election now 16 months away, Barack Obama has two problems:

  1. The prospect of more dour economic news in the months ahead.
  2. Such bad news killing any hope of the recreating Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” narrative.

Some perspective on that narrative and the 1984 presidential election, as you’re likely to hear how Reagan and FDR were the two presidents real-elected with the highest unemployment rates:

Unemployment stood at 10.4% when Reagan delivered his 1983 State of the Union Address. Unemployment stood at 7.2% on Election Day 1984. Inflation, mired in double digits during the Carter years, has fallen to 4%. Moreover, interest rates were falling and business investment accelerated. Chase Econometrics had forecasted 1.5% business investment in 1984; turns out it rose 8.4% in 1983 and23.5% in 1984.

Compare that to this sobering set of numbers, compiled by the Washington Post:

The upshot: at a time when Americans were considering if the

President deserved a second term, Team Reagan had plenty of good news to report. Here’s an upbeat speech by then-Fed Reserve chairman Paul Volker, given six months before that year’s election. See how that stacks up against this “Debbie Downer” of a speechdelivered a month ago by Ben Bernanke.

Finally, here’s the text of a 1984 Reagan campaign brochure. A pretty good sell, I think you'll agree.

Obama can try to replicate that document. But any more news like today’s sour jobs report, and this President might want to take a pass on the part about “economic recovery”.

Either that or, as in “1984” (the novel, not the election year), get himself a Ministry of Truth.