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Two reports released within days of each other stoke confusion while giving each side in the pro- and anti-Obama debate ammunition.
In late December the Commerce Department informed us that the Gross Domestic Product, the broad measure of the nation’s economy, grew by 4.1 percent in the third quarter, the latest for which we have data. Wall Street and supporters of the Obama administration cheered.
Then, in early January, we got the jobs figures for the month of December. The picture was bleak. The economy added just 74,000 jobs in December, a far cry from the nearly 200,000 analysts had been expecting. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent from seven percent, but that drop was almost totally attributable to the fact that yet more people dropped out of the workforce altogether – a sign that many who were once job seekers have simply given up.
Obama supporters blamed the disappointing jobs numbers on the unusually harsh winter weather that struck the nation. The president’s opponents said, “I told you so.”
So which is it? Is the economy growing at a brisk pace as indicated by the GDP figures or is the economy again slowing down, as suggested by the weak jobs data? A friend of mine in the financial services business shares some of his industry’s newsletters with me and the opinions expressed in those newsletters are all over the map.
With such conflicting information in hand, investors, business owners and families are left to again wonder, at the beginning of a year, which way the economy is headed. That has been the question every New Year’s since President Obama took office.
Personally, I believe that ‘Is the economy getting better?’ is a bit like ‘Does this dress make me look fat?’ If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer.
I also personally believe that year upon year upon year of middling poor national economic data is revealing proof of weak national leadership.
If the economy doesn’t get on a solid, sustained upward track soon, the Obama administration will be remembered as one that presided over the longest continuous period of economic weakness since the Great Depression.
My frustration is that it need not be so.
The president does not control the economy (although one might argue that this one has tried). What the president does do, however – indeed central to his very job – is set the tone for the direction of the country.
Millions upon millions of discreet individual decisions are made every day that have the effect of either advancing or slowing the economy. Do we buy a new house or pay down the one we’re in? Do I open a second location for my dry cleaner or sit on my cash? Do I borrow money to buy new plant machinery or make do with what we have? The tone and tenor of the president’s leadership has a significant impact on such decisions.
Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” affected economic decisions in one way. Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” affected such decisions quite differently.
President Obama is particularly well-equipped to make a positive difference. That’s because he’s the best public speaker to occupy the White House since Ronald Reagan.
If Barack Obama used his considerable oratorical skills to encourage Americans to work hard, stick together as families, believe in America’s fundamental goodness, take personal responsibility, stay in school, stay sober, avoid unwed pregnancy, respect the rule of law and seek government assistance only as a very last resort, it would act like a shot of adrenalin. The resulting burst of confidence would be acted upon positively in millions of households and businesses across the country.
But alas, nothing of the sort ever comes from President Obama’s mouth. He steadfastly drones on about such liberal tropes as fairness, income inequality, gender inequality, climate change and social justice. Nothing of uplift – reminiscent of Kennedy, Reagan or even Clinton – ever escapes his lips.
Instead, he continues to waste his presidency on redistribution and class warfare. All while the largest economy in the world clanks, wheezes and sputters along, unable to ever shift out of second gear.