President Obama knows that Democrats need something, anything to run on this fall. He hoped that thing would be Obamacare, but the botched rollout and flawed policy has turned into a weakness rather than a strength. Now, after much flailing and waving about (see: gun control, minimum wage hikes, and environmental regulations) it appears he has settled on the economy.
Just one short year ago the president was cautious about the status of the economy, keen to tread the fine line between highlighting progress and not offending the masses of un- and under-employed.
“Over the past four and a half years, we’ve fought our way back from the worst recession of our lifetimes and begun to lay a foundation for stronger, more durable growth,” the president said last August. “But as any middle-class family will tell you, we’re not where we need to be yet.”
In hindsight that reticence was wise. Following a winter marked by weak hiring and low consumer spending, the Commerce Department reported that economic activity contracted at a 2.9 percent annual rate, bleaker than economists’ worst-case predictions. Indeed, it was the worst economic quarter since the end of the last recession, when the economy shrank at a 5.4 percent rate.
But this summer President Obama has tossed off any sense of modesty, or realism, in an effort to woo voters.
“Companies are investing, consumers are spending and American manufacturing, energy, technology, autos all are booming,” the president said in an August news conference. “And thanks to the decisions that we’ve made and the resilience of the American people, we’ve recovered faster and come farther from the recession than almost any other advanced country on earth.”
In an interview with The Economist the president continued went further in heralding his singular role in saving the U.S. economy.
“Since I have come into office, there’s almost no economic metric by which you couldn’t say that the U.S. economy is better and that corporate bottom lines are better. None,” the president said.
CNBC’s Eamon Javers noticed the significant rhetorical shift:
In recent weeks, Obama has begun to use words like “booming” to describe the economy, and to cite “record” growth in various areas. It’s a rhetorical shift driven by a political calculus in an election year—and a presidential timing calculus: Obama knows he has more of his presidency in the rear view mirror than ahead. And with GDP expanding at a robust 4 percent annual rate as of last week, his aides are confident that the strong numbers will continue, making it less of a risk to tout success now. . .
Business advocates in Washington say they’ve noticed the shift. “He’s starting to get into legacy mode,” said one business industry leader.
Unfortunately for Democrats, voters are much more apt to care about their present employment situation than President Obama’s legacy. And when it comes to the average American’s feelings about the economy, well let’s just say they don’t jive with the president’s sugar-coated rhetoric. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Still scarred by a recession that ended five years ago, Americans are registering record levels of anxiety about the opportunities available to younger generations and are pessimistic about the nation’s long-term prospects, directing their blame at elected leaders in Washington.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that despite the steady pace of hiring in recent months, 76% of adults lack confidence that their children’s generation will have a better life than they do—an all-time high. Some 71% of adults think the country is on the wrong track, a leap of 8 points from a June survey, and 60% believe the U.S. is in a state of decline.
The mounting frustration of Americans stands in stark contrast to the sunny disposition of their president. The question is whether Obama’s happy-talk is genuine, or merely a last-ditch effort to gain traction before November. If the latter is true, the president may need to rethink his strategy, then again, he’s running out of issues to spin.