Out of Touch on Economy

Posted: Aug 21, 2011 10:25 AM

A Tip O’Neill quote is inscribed on Jerry Ford’s monument in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall:

"God has been good to America, especially during difficult times. At the time of the Civil War, He gave us Abraham Lincoln. And at the time of Watergate, He gave us Gerald Ford – the right man at the right time who was able to put our nation back together again."

Ford knew the right thing to do for the country, and he did it knowing it could cost him an election: He pardoned Richard Nixon.

Experience, humility and an understanding of the greater good are required to make such decisions.

Barack Obama has faced bad economic circumstances from the moment he walked into the Oval Office. A generous press and electorate – remember, not just Democrats supported him; he had independents and Republicans, too – gave him broad sway to implement policies to spur growth.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have the experience, humility or understanding of the greater good to make the critical decisions.

He picked fights with Republicans from the outset and, human nature being what it is, Republicans gladly reciprocated. Meanwhile, the nation’s economy went from bad to worse.

President Obama and his team issued plenty of “We’re going to pivot towards jobs” exclamations. Yet none lasted much longer than the photo-ops with factory or construction-project backdrops.

Unfortunately for both the president and for American workers, too many of those factories he used as backdrops closed shortly after the grandiose promises (or the workers whose sites he visited lost a day’s pay because of the disruption of his visit).

A disconnect has developed in the messaging between Candidate Obama and President Obama, according to Chris Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio: “Where the campaign was so good, the governing has been awful.”

Campaigns are about micro-targeting select publics, to energize them on behalf of your candidacy; governing from the White House means addressing the general public.

Obama has not spoken well to Main Street. He has allowed others to speak, or he tries to communicate via niche media.

That has led, in part, to the problem he now faces, said Kelley, which is messaging.

He gravitates too comfortably to the elite – which makes America’s “flyover country” view him through that prism.

Late last week he hit a new low when a Gallup tracking poll showed 26 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy, down 11 points since the last survey in May and nearly ten points lower than his economic-approval numbers right before 2010’s midterm elections.

What American business needs to hear from the White House on jobs and the economy is stability and long-term deficit reduction, not gimmicks; the jury is out on which way the administration will go when the president announces a jobs program next month.

“I think the president lacks an economic philosophy,” said Robert Maranto, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas.

“He sees unemployment more as a political problem than an economic one, so he is going to go with the gimmicks and targeted payoffs rather than broader changes.”

The president and his team have a poor understanding of how to get the economy going and to create jobs, said Stanley Block, chairman of the finance school at Texas Christian University: “You really keep regulation low and taxes low and keep things predictable, and you don't change things in a major way.”

“If he really wanted to create jobs, he would eliminate what he has done in the first two-and-a-half years,” said Block, all of which has been “counterproductive to growing jobs.”

Since his inauguration, Obama has engaged in hyper-government activism to “reform” health care, to “save” the environment, to “make government transparent” – while rarely to never talking seriously about jobs.

That led many Americans to conclude he is out of touch, disconnected or aloof.

“It strikes me that the president loves experts, which makes sense given his education,” said Maranto. “On the economy, where the experts are contending, the president is at sea, so he tends to go with the politically expedient and tacks with the wind … when we need some stability and guts.”

And stability is what we need more than anything else, says Block.