Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Tipping Point?

"All I know is what I read in the papers."

Will Rogers

Sometimes I feel like Will Rogers — although these days, with the newspaper industry on life support in many markets, I guess the more appropriate reference would be what I read on news web sites — or something similar.

The president says the economy is getting better and that another recession is not going to happen.

But Morgan Stanley says that prospect is more, not less, likely.

Wall Street clearly puts more — ahem — stock in Morgan Stanley than Barack Obama. Stocks closed down again yesterday, and there is considerable anxiety about the week ahead.

There is a lot of bad news about the economy these days, a lot of uncertainty.

Jobless claims are up.

Gallup reports that confidence in Obama to handle the economy is at its lowest point in his presidency — with only 26% approving.

Obama says he has a strategy to put America back to work — and he will unveil it right after Labor Day, which I suppose is better than what he did for the jobless on his first Labor Day in office.

But why the delay? So he and his family can ride their bikes on Martha's Vineyard for a couple of weeks? If he's got a plan — at long last — shouldn't it be treated with the urgency that this administration has promised but never delivered to the unemployed — and call Congress into special session?

His protests sound a lot to me like when Richard Nixon said he had a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam — and the American public, weary of the war and Lyndon Johnson, bought it. No details were required.

Nixon was the challenger at the time, not the incumbent, and that is a difference this president simply cannot comprehend. Challengers can speak like outsiders because they are outsiders — even if there was a time when they were insiders.

Presidents are the flip side of the coin. They may well have been seen as outsiders when they were elected, but the very act of being elected transformed them from outsiders to insiders. They were elected to use the power of the office for the common good. Their re–election campaigns tend to be about how well they have done that.

Presidencies, regardless of how novel they may seem at first, have relatively short shelf lives. The American public tends to be quite generous with its presidents — and it has been generous with this one, believe it or not. It is hard to imagine any of his most recent predecessors enjoying popularity ratings in the 40s, as Obama has, in spite of an unemployment rate that is officially around 9.0% but unofficially may be twice as high.

As I listened to Obama complaining about the "bad luck" that has plagued him in recent months, it sounded a lot to me like the kind of thing I have heard from other one–term presidents in my life — Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — but also from some twice–elected presidents.

I think a majority of voters have stopped listening to Obama. And, in my experience, when they have stopped listening, the president needs to start packing.

James Pethokoukis of Reuters puts Obama's prospects into historical context: "In fact, if a) the economic forecasts of Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs are accurate, and b) voters behave as they usually do during bad economic times, then c) Barack Obama will be a one–term president."

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