Following the release of the dreadful jobs numbers, President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden this morning. However, it was entirely unclear why he was there or what his plan is for digging the economy out of the deep hole in which we find ourselves.
The speech, if you can call it that, seemed to be a disconnected collage of one-liners and excuses. He started off by explaining that “the debate here in Washington has been dominated by issues of debt limit, but what matters most to Americans, and what matters most to me as President, in the wake of the worst downturn in our lifetimes, is getting our economy on a sounder footing more broadly so the American people can have the security they deserve.” Is he saying he’s working on something the public doesn’t care about? Not clear. Later he tied the two together, adopting the GOP position that the failure to address the debt in impairing growth. (“The problems in Greece and in Europe, along with uncertainty over whether the debt limit here in the United States will be raised, have also made businesses hesitant to invest more aggressively.”)
And throughout his tone alternated between dismissiveness (“We’ve always known that we’d have ups and downs on our way back from this recession”) to hectoring (“There are bills and trade agreements before Congress right now that could get all these ideas moving. All of them have bipartisan support. All of them could pass immediately. And I urge Congress not to wait”). Despite a boatload of evidence that government spending is not the way forward, he still insists that more “investment” is needed: “We’ve got to rein in our deficits and get the government to live within its means, while still making the investments that help put people to work right now and make us more competitive in the future.”
As one GOP operative remarked to me regarding the ragged performance, “They don’t know what to do.” And it shows. An experienced conservative communications guru surmised that “they knew they had to have him say something today because if they didn’t they’d have gotten creamed. ( ‘Is he hiding? What’s he got to say for himself?’) But they constantly put him out there and it’s wearing everyone down.” The guru added, “Their policies are the problem, and the communications portion is just a layer on top.”
As for the policy part of it, the president’s left-leaning base still thinks the answer is more of the same. Paul Krugman insisted today, “The situation cries out for aggressively expansionary monetary and fiscal policy.” How more aggressive could the Fed be without entirely eradicating the value of the dollar? But, alas, there is never enough spending to assuage the Keynesian cultists.
It is then not so much a lack of “message discipline,”as the punditocracy likes to obsess over, but rather the failure, complete and glaring, of the economic policies of this president that is the problem. Until the White House figures out how to fix its economic agenda it should keep the president inside and under wraps. He does himself no good by revealing that he’s got no clue what to do about the dreadful economy.