It's Morning in America When Obama Says It Is

The last time the economy was this bad was when Reagan won 49 states

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As President Obama turns to talking about jobs after his unpleasant battle with Republicans over the debt ceiling, a very frequently cited statistic is that no American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been reelected with an unemployment rate above 7.2 percent. Right now, the White House expects a jobless rate of 8.25 percent next fall. Sounds pretty ominous for Democrats. But it might pay to take a closer look at the guy who set the bar: Ronald Reagan.

The jobless rate in 1984 was 7.2 percent when Reagan was overwhelmingly reelected, winning 49 states. The current misery index--unemployment plus inflation--is the highest since May 1983, the spring before Reagan's landslide. So instead of talking about the sad state of affairs, why doesn't Obama just copying Reagan and declare it's Morning in America?

Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen report on Obama's chances for reelection--they're not looking good, juding by their numbers. Obama may be a highly skilled politician, they write, but "Absent the president's ability to defy political gravity, one Obama adviser conceded, 'The numbers add up to defeat.'"

A sampling of those grim digits:

Median home values have declined every month Obama has been in office, too, according to Zillow, which monitors real estate markets. The site's chief economist now predicts home value won't bottom out until 2012 "or later." So, the one asset Americans relied on for wealth--and until the crash, for spending money--will be the biggest concern for many.
And because economic growth never lived up to the expectations set early by different White House officials at different times--remember "the summer of recovery"?--voters simply don't have the money or confidence to buy big things like they use to.
The auto industry is on pace to sell nearly 30 percent fewer new cars than it did a decade ago, and the sales of stoves and ovens haven't been this low since 1992, according to David Leonhardt, the New York Times columnist who often defends the Obama economic policies. He provided Republicans some handy stats last month in a column with the stark conclusion: "We are living through a tremendous bust."

NBC's First Read writes, "Politico tries to cement the narrative: Obama's re-election prospects are in serious trouble; there are a lot of fundamentals that don't support him getting re-elected. Then again, it's just three months after Osama bin Laden's death, when all the punditry signaled that he’d be formidable in 2012. And we don't know who his opponent will be. Folks, we have a LONG WAY to go..."

This month, Obama will head out on a bus tour of the Midwest to talk about jobs. He could talk about hard times, or he could sound optimistic, like in Reagan's famous Morning in America ad.

Note the ad does not claim that there are "fewer unemployed people." Instead, it brags, "This afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married." Well, okay! Likewise, there are a lot of happy statistics Obama can claim--a crime rate that's dropped so fast the FBI can't figure out the reasons behind it. And if marriage is still a big deal statistic, there are lot more gay people who can get married than in 2008. Interest rates are down. Obama may not like the economy he has, but there's a proud political tradition of hunting down pleasant-sounding numbers he can smile about. No one knows what will happen in the election next year. But we can all be pretty sure that anyone who claims to know is wrong.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.