President Obama Still Doesn’t Understand Americans’ Economic Struggles

President Obama still doesn’t get it. When he looks back at his economic record, he sees one filled with remarkable successes, and to anyone who sees differently, well, he’d prefer you just listen to his scholarly assessment.

“I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” Obama recently told the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.”

Better than anyone in modern history? That’s a grand claim. One that most Americans probably would not agree with, especially those who still haven’t been able to get on their feet after a long, hard recession. Tellingly, not even all Democrats are buying the narrative. Take, for instance, former president Bill Clinton’s harsh dismissal of Obama’s economic narrative.

“Millions and millions and millions and millions of people look at that pretty picture of America [Obama] painted and they cannot find themselves in it to save their lives,” Clinton said in March. “People are upset, frankly; they’re anxiety-ridden, they’re disoriented, because they don’t see themselves in that picture.”

But these opinions don’t worry the president much. Just as he did with the economy, Obama has dawned his rose-colored glasses to explain why Americans just can’t see the same economy that he sees.

Among the excuses he gives to the Times:

  • He’s too busy to explain: “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter, then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
  • A vast right-wing conspiracy held him back: “How people feel about the economy,” Obama said is influenced by “what they hear. And if you have a political party – in this case, the Republicans – that denies any progress and is constantly channeling to their base, which is sizable, say 40 percent of the population, that things are terrible all the time, then people will start absorbing that.”
  • His critics are liars: “Anybody who says we are not absolutely better off today than we were just seven years ago, they’re not leveling with you. They’re not telling the truth.”
  • He actually undersold the problem, which made it seem easier to fix than it was: “It was a delicate balance throughout 2009 and 2010 to be straight with the American people about the depths of the problem, how close we were to disaster, without scaring the heck out of them.”

And yet, for all of the president’s self-congratulation, it’s clear that he utterly fails to truly understand the other side of the narrative. In a moment of pure serendipity, just as the New York Times featured the story of President Obama defending his record and dismissing his critics, the Wall Street Journal led with news that U.S. economy grew at an annual pace of just 0.5 percent, well below economists’ expectations. The Journal’s Jeffrey Sparshott reports:

A sharp pullback in business investment and weak global demand dragged down an already-lackluster U.S. economy in the opening months of 2016, the latest setback in a bumpy expansion entering its seventh year.

Consumers and the housing market kept the U.S. from sliding backward, though only barely. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output, advanced at a 0.5% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That marked the economy’s worst performance in two years.

There are other troubling trends as well. GDP growth has deteriorated steadily over the last three quarters, going from 3.9 percent in the second quarter of 2015, to 2 percent in the third quarter and 1.4 percent in the final quarter. That is largely the result of consistent decreases in consumer spending, which have happened despite low gasoline prices and relatively steady job gains. The result is three consecutive quarters of declining corporate profits, the longest streak since the financial crisis.

This is not how an economy is supposed to be performing six years into a recovery. Economic growth and consumer spending should be rising steadily as people become more confident in their financial prospects and thus more willing to purchase the things they forewent during the recession. But instead of discuss these troubling trends, or the real-world impact it is having on the countless Americans who are stuck in dead-end jobs or have been pushed out of the workforce, the president wants a pat on the back for a job well done. Or to be more precise, for the best job “in modern history.”