With only about four weeks until the election, and faced with the very real possibility that the Republicans will take back the Senate, President Obama and the Democrats have no choice but to try and put the best spin possible on the economy. In a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday, the president said, “I can put my record against any leader around the world in terms of digging ourselves out of a terrible, almost unprecedented financial crisis. Ronald Reagan used to ask the question, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ In this case, are you better off than you were in six? And the answer is, the country is definitely better off than we were when I came into office.” His interviewer, Steve Kroft, seemed skeptical, following up by asking, “You think you can convince people that they’re doing fine, economically?”
Once again, the president is overstating our country’s economic strength, saying something different than what people can see for themselves. Well, talking points du jour notwithstanding, after six years President Obama’s economic legacy is coming into focus. It is ironic that, when we look back on the Obama era, we will see a weak economy whose bright spots benefited paper traders in the financial markets and the oft-derided “1 percent.” It’s doubly ironic that one of the big success stories of the Obama era will be the oil and gas industry — a sector Obama and the Democrats detest because it fuels an American lifestyle they abhor.
Under Obama’s economic policies, the numbers of billionaires and food-stamp recipients have grown robust, but everything else has been a bust. According to Sentier Research, “real median household income is down almost 4 percent from where it was when the recovery started in June 2009. … During the recession itself, household income dropped only 2.6 percent.” Middle-class families are struggling. Fear, uncertainty and a sense of economic fragility has not abated, real growth has not taken hold and voters do not feel optimistic about the future.
Tomorrow, according to a White House press release, President Obama will give a speech at Northwestern University, in which he will pivot back to the economy for the umpteenth time. But after six years, it is getting more and more difficult for the president to hide the facts about our economic situation and escape blame for our lack of progress. The president will have a hard time convincing voters they are doing fine before Nov. 4.
Note to readers:
Your Insider is posting from Hong Kong today. You can call it something of a trifecta – I was also present during the street demonstrations this year in Thailand and Ukraine.
The good news about what I observed in Hong Kong is that the demonstration is not composed of opposing camps, as there were in Bangkok; nor does it have a boiling violent feel, like Maidan Square in Kiev. In fact, as of 1 a.m. Hong Kong time, although a police presence is gathering, no officers appear to be in riot gear. The demonstrations themselves are impressive in terms of the sheer number of people – and it is not all young people, as I had suspected. There are plenty of middle-age and older Hong Kong wannabe voters on the streets. Yet, the demonstration lacks a central stage or focal point. It’s just a bunch of people milling around, with no program, concert or speakers to rile the crowd. Anyway, it is nowhere near a proper riot or violent unrest – although the internet is running mysteriously slowly.
The bad news is that no one I spoke with could tell me how this is going to end, even though everyone agrees there won’t be anything like a capitulation from Beijing. Unless the protesters fizzle or throw in the towel, these demonstrations have the potential to end badly and set back the political evolution of Hong Kong and even all of China.
Follow Ed on Twitter: @EdRogersDC