With President Obama beginning his media tour tonight, the messages he sends will be important. I say “messages” – plural – because America needs to hear more from the president than just plans for Syria.
Everyone has been so alarmed and dismayed by the mistakes concerning Syria that it’s been easy to overlook how alarmed and dismayed everyone is about the economy. A troubling new set of economic data was released last Friday, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to Obama. Americans are rapidly dropping out of the workforce, with the labor force participation rate now at its lowest point (63.2 percent) since August 1978.
Every president has to find a balance between being optimistic and seeming delusional about the economy. It’s one thing to be upbeat and optimistic, and another to appear completely disconnected and clueless. On Friday, after the jobs report was released, Obama said, “The United States is a source of strength in the global economy. … We’ve put more people back to work, but we’ve also cleared away the rubble of crisis and laid the foundation for stronger and more durable economic growth.”
If you think I’m being unfair or am unnecessarily alarmed, remember that this is the president who also told us five days ago, “I didn’t set a ‘red line,’ the world set a red line. … My credibility is not on the line.” Is he trying to kid us or is he kidding himself? The former possibility is insulting and the latter is frightening.
I don’t expect the president to be in a fetal position, saying, “Woe is me, all is lost,” but a little acknowledgement of reality might go a long way. He should admit that things haven’t gone precisely according to plan, and that some policy adjustments need to be made. Obama should acknowledge some of the mistakes made by his administration, a la Ronald Reagan’s admission after the failures of the Iran-contra affair. In his 1987 State of the Union address, Reagan told Congress, “We did not achieve what we wished, and serious mistakes were made in trying to do so.” This admission, although it came late in his presidency, gave Reagan somewhat of a reset.
If Obama can put his ego aside and admit some mistakes of his own in today’s media tour or in tomorrow night’s prime-time address to the nation, it might give him more maneuvering room, which means more time and options. It could also give the impression that he is doing something measured and reasonable, instead of just compounding his red-line blunder. He should acknowledge that some of what he has said about Syria is regrettable.
And on the economy, he should own up to the wrong assumptions and predictions that his administration has made over the past five years and assure the American people that he gets it. He needs to pledge that his administration will be more careful going forward and will not continue to pursue policies that obviously suppress economic growth.
President Obama shouldn’t expect anyone to pretend that he didn’t draw a red line in Syria or that his economic policies are working here at home.