Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Silver Lining

As I have observed here before, I grew up in Arkansas.

And when I was growing up, there was a saying that nearly everyone around me could be heard to utter, at one time or another: "Thank God for Mississippi!"

I don't know how long they were saying that in Arkansas — and it's been awhile since I lived there, so they may well be saying it still ... for all I know. But it was always an article of faith, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it still is.

It stemmed from the fact that Arkansas usually ranked 48th or 49th in nearly every category — but Mississippi was usually 50th.

That was the silver lining for Arkansans — who weren't proud of the fact that the state lagged so far behind the others in nearly every meaningful category but who were grateful for the existence of Mississippi, without whom Arkansas would have been dead last in so many important things.

In the wake of yesterday's abysmal jobs report, supporters of Barack Obama have been grasping at anything that can give the news a positive spin. A negative jobs report at this stage of the president's re–election campaign cannot possibly help his cause, but that hasn't stopped his backers from trying to give the news a positive spin.

Call it their "Thank God for Mississippi" moment.

As usual, the White House got its rah rah from the New York Times. But it didn't strike me as being quite as enthusiastic as it usually is.

"The slow economy is getting slower," wrote the Times, apparently ignoring the influence of public policy while seizing the opportunity to criticize the president's congressional critics.

"Republicans in Congress seem more determined not only to block any boost that President Obama wants to give the economy," opined the Times, "but they are preparing to take the nation's credit rating hostage again over the debt ceiling. Mitt Romney, the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, has no new ideas."

The Times did acknowledge, however, that the numbers were "daunting." Unemployment went up (0.1%, to be sure, was not an astonishingly high number by itself, but it was alarming and disappointing for an administration that saw much more robust job creation a few months ago and was hoping for clear evidence of steady improvement); weekly wages went down (thanks to a drop in average hours worked); and nearly 5½ million Americans are now regarded as long–term unemployed.

The hardly unexpected news caused a chain reaction, along with Europe's economic woes, on Wall Street as each of the stock exchanges lost more than 2% of its volume.

But the Times chose to blame congressional Republicans, who have controlled only the House (and that for barely more than a year) since the 2006 midterm elections — "There's no sign that Washington is prepared to shoulder this responsibility," said the Times, declining to hold the president accountable — although it did acknowledge that, "[i]n the meantime, millions of Americans need jobs."

The Philadelphia Inquirer blithely called the jobs report a "letdown" that "baffled" economic experts who had anticipated better. I can assure you of one thing: When the experts are baffled, the rank and file become jittery, and they express themselves at the ballot box.

Many experts suggested that a (temporary) scapegoat is the fact that many of the unemployed who had given up the search were encouraged by job gains earlier this year to re–enter the workforce. The jobs still aren't there, but more people are actively looking for them.

Obviously, most of us would like to see those who have given up find a renewed resolve within themselves to seek employment. But, when they do, they can be so darned inconvenient.

I don't know if it was all those formerly discouraged job seekers jumping back into the far from tranquil employment waters, but few of the president's usual defenders have had anything to say about the latest job report. I guess they couldn't find a silver lining.

Jimmy Carter has been an unapologetic supporter of Obama, but, after he lets the news sink in and he reviews the unambiguous election returns on November 7 — and recalls how he has been reviled for more than three decades as the worst modern American president (which lets some rather notorious 19th–century chief executives off the hook) — he may be the only Democrat who can truly find a silver lining ...

What will Jimmy Carter say on that November day? Thank God for Barack Obama?

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