Fresh from his over-hyped pratfall from the Oval Office that left Americans not only wondering if the president actually cared about the Gulf oil spill more than cap-and-tax but also worried that even his teleprompter skills were failing him, President Obama rushed to Racine Wisconsin Wednesday to deliver what must have been the test drive for his stump speech between now and November.
It crashed, and with it, hopes of Americans for some common sense on the faltering economy and of Democrats for a theme on which to build or even a paragraph of talking points for the fall's contests.
"The economy is headed in the right direction," the president told his gathering of usual suspects in a city where unemployment hovers at 14%.
No, really, he said that.
Having been chided by no less an emphathizer than Bill Clinton the week before, President Obama put on his best "I feel your pain" face but to little avail. He dutifully noted that circumstances for most families were tough and getting tougher, but the "right direction" phrase was like a gong announcing entry into another dimension of reality.
The president dutifully slew an army of straw men who had apparently crossed the border from Canada and were marching south armed with intention to deregulate the oil industry and allow the banks to replay October of 2008. It was a performance that would make a junior high school debater blush with shame for lack of serious preparation. For the second time in a week the question arose if the speech shop had been on another Georgetown bender.
The tape of the event fueled the whole of my Wednesday radio show, and guests and callers alike were laughing at the replay of the president's "right direction" inflection. Perhaps the audience for my affiliate in Washington D.C., WRC 1260 AM in the Beltway, thinks we are headed in the "right direction." Federal government employment after all is up and federal spending off the charts.
But nowhere else in the land is the economic outlook rosy. Not only is "right direction" a risible assessment, it arrived on the day a terrible quarter in the markets closed, and less than week after the world gathered in Toronto to scold the president for his incoherence on matters economic.
And no wonder. American exports are down. Employment growth is nearly non-existent, and consumer confidence has crashed. All across the globe governments are moving decisively to cut government spending before it completely crowds out private lending, but here in the U.S. the rookie president with zero training in economics and a team drawn from everywhere within five miles of Chicago and Cambridge feels like we need even more printed money and ever higher taxes.
The political consequences of this head-in-the-sand approach are becoming obvious. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports that "[n]ew data from Gallup shows that independent voters now favor a generic Republican candidate for Congress over a generic Democratic candidate by 12 points, a trend that appears to be tied to their feelings about President Barack Obama."
"In more than 6,000 interviews conducted in June," Cillizza relayed, "46 percent of Independents said they would support a Republican candidate while 34 percent said they would vote for a Democrat."
"In April and May, Gallup polls showed Republicans with a 10-point edge among independents on the generic ballot while in March it was an eight-point margin," Cillizza concluded.
The American electorate has assessed the president's incompetence on the economy and now the Gulf spill, his dithering in Afghanistan and his desertion of Israel, his bullying of GM and its dealers and shareholders in favor of his union pals, his "economic theory" as evidenced in the abuse of TARP and the economic waste of the stimulus, and they have concluded that the only "right direction" we are headed in is towards the November election.
Even cemented-in incumbents like Chuck Schumer have got to begin to worry that the president's combination of epic incompetence and ideological extremism could spell electoral doom for them as well as dozens of House Democrats.