Advancing a Free Society

Weak Economy, Bad Week for the President

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

By any reasonable estimate, it's been a bad week for President Obama -- and here we are, only at "Hump Day".

It began with the White House trying to spin its way out of a crummy jobs report (a paltry 54,000 jobs created; unemployment now at a politically toxic 9.1%).

Next thing you know, the President's top economic advisor is ditching Washington to return to the cozier confines of academia (the University of Chicago -- can you blame him?).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's state visit potentially was a convenient distraction -- until the press started asking complicated questions about her and Mr. Obama's longterm commitment to the conflict in Libya (is the War Powers Act the next big fight on Capitol Hill?).

If the two state leaders seemed uncomfortable, that was nothing compared to the chairman of the Federal Reserve trying to talk down talk of a double-dip recession. Twice in a speech earlier this week, Mr. Bernanke called the job market "far from normal" and conceded, "the economy is still producing at levels well below its potential."

Not exactly 'morning in "America".

Finally, the frosting on the cake: the Washington Post-ABC survey showing Obama losing, hypothetically, to Mitt Romney.

Yes . . . losing to Romney.

Regarding the President's poll numbers: much attention has been given to the apparently lightning-quick demise of the "bounce" following the killing of Osama bin-Laden -- a bounce that was supposed to last not one but another 18 months and re-election. Keep in mind that polls are indeed, per the worn political cliche, "snapshots". A month ago, the President received a 6-point Gallup bump after the raid in Pakistan. Gallup Daily (a three-day rolling average of Obama's job approval) shows the ebb and flow of this presidency -- just when you think he's sinking, he rebounds; just when he's taking off, he falls back to earth. Back and forth he goes, locked in a five-point range.

Of all the numbers circling around Barack Obama and his political fortunes, here are a few, courtsesy of the aforementined Post-ABC poll, that matter more than vacillating job-approval ratings:

  • By 2 to 1, Americans say the country is seriously on the wrong track.
  • 9 in 10 rate the economy negatively.
  • 6 in 10 say the economy hasn't recovered.
  • Of those who believe the rec overy has begun, most characterize it as "weak".

How fortuitous, then, that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty came out firing Tuesday with a major policy address calling for tax and spending cuts to jump-start the economy (corporate income tax rate would be reduced to 15%; individual federal income rates would be flattened to just two rates: 10% for the first $50,000 of income and 25% for income above that).

The speech (click here to read it) puts "T-Paw" a step ahead of his GOP presidential rivals. Perhaps it stats a bidding war among the hopefuls as to who can develop the most ambitious economic blueprint.

If so, that bodes well for Republicans in 2012. The White House is hoping for a repeat of 1996 or 2004, when the embattled incumbent president survived an off-message challenger. But the current poll numbers suggest otherwise: it's could be a replay of 1992 and a nation wallowing in economic angst.

Let's see if the Republican challengers recognize the opening that's been presented and can manage to stay focused on the uncertainty that imperils the Obama presidency. If so, Mr. Obama might find himself a victim of the weak economy -- sooner rather than later.