WASHINGTON — One would think, given so much practice, that the Obama White House would have been better prepared for last week’s wretched jobs report.
Instead, we witnessed the five stages of bad public relations. Delusion: It was a “step in the right direction.” Dismissiveness: Don’t “read too much into any one monthly report.” Grudging acceptance: “It’s still tough out there.” Cliché: “There are no quick fixes.” Self-pity: “I suspect that most people in Cincinnati would acknowledge that I’ve tried real hard.”I suspect that most people in Cincinnati and elsewhere would prefer an economic strategy that consists of something more than blame shifting and the systematic lowering of expectations.
Obama’s economic agenda is debilitated by a political problem. Announcing an ambitious new set of policy proposals would be an admission that previous approaches were insufficient — that the economy is not moving in the right direction. But winning re-election during a serious labor market recession is no easy task.
Up to this point, Obama has successfully finessed the issue — recalling the initial challenges he faced, urging patience and criticizing congressional obstruction on a series of incremental reforms. At some point, however, claiming to be a victim of fate just appears feeble. Patience takes on the air of complacency. And the lowering of expectations seems more like the acceptance of permanent decline — a new normal less ambitious and optimistic than the old.