The Corner

White House Messaging Undergoes Structural Change

Bye-bye, hope and change. Hello, denial and defeatism.

Today’s jobs numbers have taken the wind out of the administration’s blustering economic sails. As high school and college grads poured into the job market in June, employers managed to add only 18,000 jobs — the lowest number in nine months. Unemployment rose to 9.2 percent, and the underemployment rate soared to 16.2 percent — the highest since December.

In a fleeting Rose Garden appearance today, the president urged patience and advocated a less-than-inspirational economic agenda of Patent Office reform, a new bureaucracy (an “infrastructure bank), and extension of December’s payroll tax cut. (Why not? Look how well the temporary cut has sparked the economy so far!) He then retreated swiftly to the White House, refusing to take a single question.

The evidence that Obamanomics has failed — long-term unemployment is higher now than at any time in more than 60 years — is overwhelming. Even the White House senses its “stimulus” mantra won’t wash any more. After publicly chuckling that the much-vaunted “shovel-ready jobs weren’t so shovel ready,” [ha-ha!] the president can’t very well maintain that prosperity is just around the corner if only we keep spending ourselves deeper into debt.

Thus, we see two new messages emerging. First, the 1970s-esque acknowledgement that, yes, the economy stinks, but there’s nothing the president or anyone else can do about it. Why? Because there has been a “structural change” in the economy. The moral of this argument: “Get used to 10 percent unemployment, 15 percent underemployment, and bid a fond adieu to the American dream.”

It’s a message of resignation. Yes, it says, we’re doomed for economic decline no matter what, but trust us to manage it more gracefully than anyone else.

But Americans will likely stand athwart such defeatism and say “Stop!” There is no need, they will say, to tolerate European levels of unemployment. It’s an increasingly easy sell: Jettison the President’s European-style economic policies, and you jettison European-style unemployment.

The second new message emanating from the White House is strictly political. Unemployment numbers are no big whoop, says senior presidential advisor David Plouffe, because the president can win reelection even if the economy is in the tank. While doubtless reassuring to the 454 White House aides earning more than $37 million this year, that news provides little comfort to the 14.1 million Americans currently looking for a job.

Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, sprang this message yesterday at a Bloomberg breakfast:

The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers. People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: “How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?”

One is tempted to ask Mr. Plouffe: “Just what part of ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ don’t you understand?” But perhaps history is wrong and Mr. Plouffe is right in saying that feelings outweigh employment in matters electoral. Yet, even if that is the case, Plouffe shouldn’t count his electoral chickens just yet. The fact is, most Americans don’t feel that great about their situation. A recent McClatchy-Marist Poll found that 77 percent of registered voters (and 72 percent of Democrats) “think the U.S. economy is currently in a recession.”Last month, a Bloomberg National Poll found that Americans feel — by a 44 percent to 34 percent margin — that they are worse off than when Obama took office. Even more ominously, 55 percent feel their children are now destined to have a lower standard of living than they do.

White House messaging has definitely undergone major “structural change” since 2008. “Hope and change” has given way to “Hey, this job’s tough. Lower your expectations, America.”

— Michael Franc is vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation.


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