Commentary Magazine


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What Is “Better”?

On the second-quarter GDP figures, Megan McArdle writes:

Woo-hoo! GDP only fell at an annualized pace of 1% in the second quarter! Pop the champagne!

Thoughts:

  • Happiness is relative
  • This number will be revised, probably downward
  • Consumer saving continues to rise, and probably will for a while
  • Employment isn’t going to recover for quite some time

As unemployment continues to tick up and the deficit gets revised (with health care stalled, the Obama team will release the midyear figures), it will be hard to convince voters that things are “better” or that much of anything the administration has done is “working.” It simply isn’t possible to convince voters that they should be happy because there are fewer people still losing jobs than in previous months. And while it is true that the banking crisis has stabilized, to the average voter this is amorphous and, especially if s/he still can’t get a loan, irrelevant.

The danger for the Obama administration, which we have already seen play out in the debate over the stimulus plan, is that it will sound out of touch and unsympathetic by insisting things are so much better than they were. For a group that already sounds quite eggheadish and removed from the concerns of ordinary people, that’s a bit of a problem. In fact, Obama’s media spinners are already worried about his elite image in the midst of a recession. Matthew Cooper frets:

The Obamas have had plenty of meetings with those who are down on their luck. But the overall impression that Americans may be getting of the Obamas is of people out of touch with the plight of Americans. This is probably owing more to the celebrity media culture than anything the Obamas have done. But in a neo Depression, is all the coverage of Michelle’s hair, the kids at Sidwell, the upcoming Martha’s Vineyard vacation really helping the president.

Democrats risk forfeiting their claim of representing the “little guy” to the Republicans, who haven’t sounded so concerned about jobs and small business in a generation. Rahm Emanuel might have been right — the recession could be a politically transformative event. Just not in the way he and Obama had hoped.