Pollyanna-in-Chief? The Economy Drowns Out Obama's Cheery Speeches

In repeatedly insisting that there is "nothing wrong" with the economy, Obama puts himself at odds with both the public's perception and the market's fundamentals

JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


"There is nothing wrong with our country" except for the "broken" political system, President Obama declared at many stops on his Midwest bus tour this week. "We've still got the best workers in the world. We've got the best entrepreneurs in the world. We've got the best scientists, the best universities."

Well, fine. Presidents have to profess confidence about the country and its long-term prospects, even when the news is bleak. But in repeatedly insisting that there is "nothing wrong," Obama put himself at odds with current reality and with what most people think is true.

Obama's line is reminiscent of McCain's infamous remark that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong."

It's not just that unemployment and underemployment are sky-high. It's also that the economic recovery is sputtering and in serious danger of slipping into a second recession. A wide variety of polling shows that about 75 percent of Americans think the country is on the "wrong track." Consumer confidence is at the lowest level since 1980, and consumer spending is depressed. Global stock markets, which plunged again on Thursday, are more volatile than at any time since the depths of the financial crisis in late 2008. Gasoline prices are still near $4 a gallon, and gold prices have now pushed above $1,800 an ounce.

Obama's line is eerily reminiscent of John McCain's infamous remark during the 2008 presidential campaign -- during the same week that Wall Street was imploding - that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong."

McCain, like Obama, was simply trying to project an underlying confidence that this, too, would pass. For political and economic reasons, it's not a good idea for a president or presidential candidate to trash the state of the nation. It both deepens the crisis of confidence and projects a lack of leadership.

But McCain's comment seemed so utterly at odds with the financial collapse that he came across as clueless and disingenuous. Obama's comments this week had a similar ring. It's one thing to assure voters that the country still has underlying strengths and will eventually recover. It's something else to say, as the president did on numerous occasions, that only political gridlock was to blame. And Obama didn't just say it once. It was a central line he repeated at his bus stops in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

Does that inspire confidence? It's true that the debt-ceiling fight highlighted a political standoff, and that Standard & Poor's cited the stalemate as the primary reason for downgrading the United States' AAA credit rating.

Presented by

Edmund L. Andrews is the deputy magazine editor for National Journal.

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