President Obama received some good news on Friday for his 2012 re-election hopes. The national unemployment rate dropped to 8.5% – the lowest rate in around three years. As with most recent drops over the past few months, the bag’s a little more mixed than the mainstream media lets on.
Now, there has indeed been a modest uptick in hiring, and that’s certainly a good thing. Sure, a good portion of those jobs came from seasonal, holiday positions such as mail carriers and messengers, but a job is a job. Hopefully those kinds of jobs will lead to other opportunities. Still, a factor that’s really been helping the unemployment rate comes directly from how that rate is calculated. Since the number is based on how many Americans are currently collecting unemployment benefits, those whose benefits run out before they find a job are removed from the equation. In other words, they’re still unemployed, but they aren’t included in the unemployment rate. Recent estimates put the actual unemployment rate at 11.4%, which isn’t much different than it was at the height of the recession. With over 20 million Americans who are currently unemployed or underemployed, and a labor force participation rate that is the lowest it’s been in nearly 30 years (and continues to shrink), things are still pretty terrible.
HOWEVER, in the context of politics alone, a dropping unemployment rate is good for the president. It would be good for ANY president because, traditionally, wins and losses for the country are attributed directly to the executive power of the person in the White House – fair or not.
With that being said though, hasn’t Obama relinquished his accountability for the direction of the economy by insisting for the past nine months that the Republicans have obstructed his every move? Think about it for a second… When the Democrats had all of the power in Washington for two years, there were practically no signs of economic improvement. Economic growth was virtually non-existent and the unemployment rate consistently hovered above 9%. In 2009, before the Republicans had even won the House of Representatives, Obama’s chief economic adviser, Christina Romer, even told congress that the president’s stimulus program had already had its biggest impact on the economy and would dwindle in 2010. Yet, the economy was stagnant then and remained that way.
It’s only over the past nine months (during which time the president has been routinely whining about Republican obstruction) that the numbers have started becoming more favorable. And there’s an argument to be made that the Republicans have indeed been effective in thwarting the president’s economic strategies. They’ve successfully denied him tax hikes, regulations, and more stimulus spending. At times, they’ve done it sloppily and not in a politically-smart fashion, but there’s little doubt that they’ve thrown a blanket over Obama’s economic vision. The president, himself wouldn’t deny that. In fact, it’s a primary component of his 2012 campaign strategy to cite obstruction as the reason for the country not rebounding.
The media has embraced and promoted Obama’s narrative, so that brings us to an important question: When the national media touts good economic news (whether it’s genuine or not), why is Obama the beneficiary? The president has, by his own declaration, been marginalized on the economy by the Republicans. If anything, doesn’t this suggest that the marginalization of our president is a good thing for the economy? And for consistency sake, doesn’t it also suggest that the Republicans deserve credit?
I’ll throw out a little sports analogy: In football, if a starting-quarterback is doing terribly in a game, and the coach benches him at half-time, who gets the credit when the replacement quarterback turns the momentum around and wins the game? According to the news media, it would be the starting quarterback. The problem of course is that most members of the news media are more like cheerleaders than they are announcers.
Don’t get me wrong… The economy is a disaster. No one is scoring touchdowns. Our leadership is not making our country’s long-term viability any more likely. The mere notion that we’re supposed to get excited about an 8.5% unemployment rate (over three years after the recession started), while our national debt is approaching $16 trillion, shows just how much the bar has been lowered to grant any sort of achievement to this administration. It’s going to take serious changes in Washington (which is impossible under the current environment) for this country to even stand a chance of getting back to the economic prosperity we once enjoyed.
Yet, you’d think by listening to most of the media that the good times are upon us again, and we have the great Barack Obama to thank, despite his insistence that he’s not getting his way. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?