Friday, September 03, 2010

Did we 'Recover' this Summer?

Someone really needs to be fired over at the White House. Back in June, the White House confidently announced that the summer of 2010 would be the 'Summer of Economic Recovery'. Posts on the White House blog back in June said this summer was 'sure' to be a season of recovery. VP Joe Biden, citing an anticipated spike in work projects spurred by last year's stimulus, confidently declared that the recovery act is working and that a positive ripple effect would extend throughout the economy during the summer months.

As we now approach Labor Day weekend and the end of summer, will anyone look back at the summer of 2010 and describe it as the sure-thing 'Summer of Recovery' it was billed as? In June, the unemployment rate stood at 9.5%. Today, it is 9.6%. The most recent GDP measure is at a near flat 1.6%. At a time when college graduates were entering the workforce in droves, private sector job creation between June-August totaled a meager 235,000. Overall job numbers actually dropped in total by 200K during the summer.

None of this is to discount the fact that the economy is thankfully no longer in freefall the way it was back in 2008/2009. But anything beyond that is speculation. Yes, things could've been worse had there been no change in political philosophy and policy, but they also could've been better (would corporate reticence to hire be nearly as high had the healthcare law not been passed?). In my view, the down-home reality is that the stimulus barely pulled the economy out of official recession, and doesn't have much staying power upon which a bonafide recovery can be built. Economic growth estimates based upon stimulus-incited activity were and are irresponsibly too rosy, which is why the federal budget deficit data, as bad as it is, may actually understate just how underwater the country is. And it's why the declaration that summer 2010 would be a 'Summer of Recovery' should be cause for the person at the White House who thought it up to be canned, so that they can see firsthand just how ridiculous the slogan turned out to be.

I did not vote for Barack Obama. I was never under any illusion that I would agree with most of what he intended to do. I never bought into the 'Change we can Believe in' stuff. But I also never thought Obama would be in danger of being just as clueless as his predecessor when it came to reading the pulse of the nation and tailoring his message accordingly.

One of the great failures of the Bush presidency was that he didn't realize how irrelevant he had become while he was still in office. For at least the last 3+ years of his presidency, Mr Bush talked as if he believed people were listening. What he didn't seem to realize was that the country, by and large, had turned away from him because they were angry at his policies and incensed by messaging that seemed completely out of step with reality. Mr Bush was talking to an empty room, believing it was full. This greatly contributed to his considerable ineffectiveness during most of his 2nd term. Put simply, he was no longer regarded as an in-tune trustworthy and competent leader who people looked to for reassurance and inspiration in unsteady times. His lips were moving, but he had lost his voice.

It is hard to believe that someone as supposedly savvy and 'in touch' as Obama wouldn't learn from the very mistakes of his predecessor that helped create the tsunami that swept him into office. Like Bush's messaging about Iraq, then Katrina, and eventually about the economy, Obama's 'summer of recovery' messaging has become a punch line, rather than a euphoric chorus line. The slogan bears virtually no resemblance to the current on the ground experience of the nation. The nation doesn't feel it's in recovery. Anxiety about long-term economic malaise remains high. Concerns that things could get worse before they get better are increasing. To the extent they can, individuals, families, and companies are saving/hording rather than spending, indicating deep fear that firewall nest eggs are more needed than goods and services. And yet, in the midst of all this, the White House spent 3 months telling us that we were in a 'summer of recovery'.

If the White House really believes this, it indicates a deep disconnect with and even denial of present circumstances and attitudes. If the White House trotted out this slogan in an effort to get people to believe it and feel better, it indicates a deep disconnect with the toll the recession has taken on the national psyche. Most of all, it indicates that like Mr Bush, Mr Obama wrongly believes that soothing words from politicians will magically overcome deep fear and skepticism brought about by real life hardships that diverge considerably from elevated but very distant oratory. And this indicates that like Mr Bush, Mr Obama does not yet possess the eyesight to see that more and more seats in the auditorium are empty when he begins speaking. If Mr Obama doesn't get his vision checked soon, he risks falling into a trap that has ensnared so many - not properly understanding the practical limits of idealistic rhetoric (1J 3.18).


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