Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- One would think, given so much practice, that the Obama White House would have been better prepared for last week's wretched jobs report.

Instead, we witnessed the five stages of bad public relations. Delusion: It was a "step in the right direction." Dismissiveness: Don't "read too much into any one monthly report." Grudging acceptance: "It's still tough out there." Clich: "There are no quick fixes." Self-pity: "I suspect that most people in Cincinnati would acknowledge that I've tried real hard."

I suspect that most people in Cincinnati and elsewhere would prefer an economic strategy that consists of something more than blame shifting and the systematic lowering of expectations.

Obama's economic agenda is debilitated by a political problem. Announcing an ambitious new set of policy proposals would be an admission that previous approaches were insufficient -- that the economy is not moving in the right direction. But winning re-election during a serious labor market recession is no easy task.

Up to this point, Obama has successfully finessed the issue -- recalling the initial challenges he faced, urging patience and criticizing congressional obstruction on a series of incremental reforms. At some point, however, claiming to be a victim of fate just appears feeble. Patience takes on the air of complacency. And the lowering of expectations seems more like the acceptance of permanent decline -- a new normal less ambitious and optimistic than the old.

Obama's economic message is currently premised on the denial of a crisis. But last month -- three years into an anemic recovery -- more American workers went on Social Security disability (85,000) than got jobs (80,000). Hispanic unemployment is at nearly 11 percent; African-American unemployment at about 14 percent. In any other political circumstance, the Democratic Party would be seized with urgency. A McCain administration would be seeing preparations for a union-sponsored Labor Day march on Washington demanding jobs, jobs, jobs. The Obama administration, in contrast, gets some muted criticism from Robert Reich, who argues for "large and bold things to turn the economy around."


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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