Joe Biden was an inspired choice as spokesman for the “summer of recovery.”
If the Obama administration wanted someone with little credibility to lose, who will say anything without a hint of shame or compunction, whose mouth habitually outruns the facts and common sense, it found its man.
The vice president is still hawking his recovery summer, even as GDP growth slows to a crawl, and he’ll still tout the marvels of the stimulus even if we dip into negative territory again later this year. He makes the late, great pitchman Billy Mays look restrained and rhetorically scrupulous by comparison. Biden is joined at the hip to the most disastrous White House shibboleth since Pres. Gerald Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now.”
#ad#In a vaguely Soviet act of governmental exhortation, in 1974 Ford wanted local citizens’ groups to “whip inflation now,” or WIN. Ford offered a shiny “WIN” button to anyone enlisting “as an Inflation Fighter and Energy Saver for the duration.” Six months later, only one local committee had been formed, and even Ford concluded the initiative was “too gimmicky.” Inflation remained unwhipped.
What WIN buttons were to Ford, the gewgaws of the stimulus are to Biden. He relentlessly plugs the $5 billion for weatherization as “one of our signature programs,” never mentioning, as the Associated Press puts it, that the program “has experienced spending delays, inefficiencies and mismanagement. In Biden’s home state of Delaware, the entire program has been suspended since May, and last month federal auditors identified possible fraud.”
The inefficiencies of the weatherization program are typical. According to the Washington Post, as of June 30, Detroit had spent less than 1 percent of $8.8 million for energy-efficiency initiatives, Phoenix had spent even less of its $15.2 million, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had spent $66,000 of $2 million.
In a favorite administration statistic, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the stimulus increased the number of people employed by 1.4 million to 3.3 million in the second quarter, a suspiciously wide range redolent of seat-of-the-pants guesswork. All the report proves is that if you adopt a model that assumes that the stimulus created jobs, it created a lot of them. The stimulus excels in this ethereal category of assumed job creation.
If the stimulus provided any initial boost to the economy, it was a sugar high, its effect neither healthy nor enduring. It’s been a chilly summer of recovery. According to Macroeconomic Advisers, which estimates growth on a monthly basis, GDP growth declined 0.4 percent in June. Only 61,000 private-sector jobs were created in June and July. Biden must be banking on a hell of an August.
A ruinous shortsightedness is a hallmark of Obama economic policy. In July, sales of new homes dropped to their lowest level since the government started tracking them 40 years ago. The precipitous fall — down 32.4 percent from a year earlier — came with the expiration of the new homebuyer’s credit. The credit temporarily boosted home sales, but — like the cash-for-clunkers program and the stimulus (in the best-case scenario) — at the price of stealing demand from the future. Unfortunately, the future always arrives eventually.
Obama-administration officials with a sense of shame want to keep their hucksterism within reasonable limits. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was reportedly irked that the New York Times gave his op-ed on encouraging economic signs the Biden-esque headline “Welcome to the Recovery.” Geithner was right to point out that recoveries from financial crises are always long, hard slogs. That should have counseled restraint and realistic expectations from the beginning, rather than the administration’s counterproductive hyperactivity and self-discrediting overpromising.
Once Barack Obama had settled on a nearly $1 trillion stimulus, though, it was inevitable he had to oversell it to get it through Congress, and once he unleashed that sort of spending, it was inevitable that Congress would create a sprawling mess. Amid the political and economic wreckage, there’s only one thing to do: send out Biden.
— Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.