The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Americans Sour On Economic Prospects

The White House is all about social issues these days, and a new AP-GfK poll explains why: Americans think the economy is getting worse. As recently as February, 20 percent of Americans thought the economy was in “good” shape; currently only 10 percent share that opinion. Two thirds think the economy is in “poor” shape, and only one in three expects their family’s situation to improve in the coming year.

Much of what is wrong with the economy is not President Obama’s fault; the incompetence and incoherence of EU policy making, the aging of China’s economic model and India’s faltering management have nothing to do with anything the White House controls. The public does, to some extent, cut the President a break; while 52 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy, a substantial minority (46 percent) thinks he’s handling things pretty well. Their patience, however, is not inexhaustible; President Obama’s economic ratings have fallen over the last three months.

Growing public pessimism about the country’s economic prospects in the spring of a presidential election year is extremely bad news for the White House. If the economic news were better, we’d be hearing a lot more about that and a lot less about gay marriage and contraception.

With both national tracking polls showing Romney ahead this morning, the social strategy doesn’t seem to be working. That’s hardly a surprise; voters say the economy matters more to them than any other issue this year.

Published on May 11, 2012 9:31 am
  • Kris

    “voters say the economy matters more to them than any other issue this year”

    Then that makes them complicit in Romney’s violent war on homosexuals!

    [/sarc]

  • John Richardson

    I don’t think it matters if the bad economy is Obama’s fault or not. Voters are going to blame him anyway come November.

  • Anthony

    Slow growth ahead is what many economic indicators point to (business survey of 528 midsize companies indicate executives are less optimistic about U.S. economy). Yes, the economy matters but we’re in uncertain times and continued economic readjustment – and very little overall guidance.

  • thibaud

    Goose, gander. It was Rick Santorum who made contraception (!) a core campaign issue.

    When it’s vote harvest time, both parties rely on that hardy perennial, the great american culture war nonsense.

    Neither party will make a serious effort to rein in the banksters and shut down the zombie banks, or secure the border and end our importation of a second underclass, or put forth a vision of prosperity and mutual provision that is not based on serial asset bubbles.

    We really need a new political class in this country.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    Let the lying begin:

    http://tinyurl.com/cs7sp2x

    They will destroy us.

  • Tom

    “We really need a new political class in this country.”

    Who would you recommend be the members of this “new political class?”

  • thibaud

    @ #6 Tom – my first test would be not ideology or program but basic decency and demonstrated high intelligence, common sense, and political courage. These are the qualities that are absent from our ideology-soaked, opportunistic political landscape.

    From another era, the standard was set by John Danforth (R) of Missouri, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York, and Dick Lugar (sigh) of Indiana.

    These men put the nation first – always. They never sought to demonize their opponents or gin up culture war issues. They applied very high intelligence to complex social and political problems. They were scrupulously honest and had zero interest in going for the gold upon leaving office.

    Who fits the Danforth/Moynihan/Lugar standard today?

    No one, really, though if I had to choose, I would suggest:

    1. both Ron Wyden and Paul Ryan, as these two ideological opponents have for the good of the nation put aside their differences to work closely, diligently, and courageously – with no thanks from their respective parties – to come up with a sensible compromise on reforming our kludge of a health insurance non-system before it bankrupts us.

    2. Jim Webb and Evan Bayh.

    3. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Tom Campbell of California: again, utterly incorruptible, smart, decent, dedicated public servants who despite their strongly held beliefs never demonized or sneered at their opponents.

    Again, I can’t emphasize enough that our main problems are MORAL in nature: a political class that refuses to confront hard choices with an honest admission that our ideologies are failing us, that our politics is corrupt, that we cannot keep stoking asset bubbles and pretending that a consumer binge is any basis for a healthy, prosperous society, and that we absolutely must take care of our fellow citizens who are elderly, sick or poor.

    I would probably rule out any pol who has ever entertained the thought of working for a hedge fund, VC, or private equity fund, or who went for the gold in Silicon Valley. It’s our current pols’ deep envy of their big swingin’ D confreres raking in the gold in Greenwich and Palo Alto that, more than anything else, clouds their judgment when it comes to cleaning up our financial mess.

  • Tom Gates

    “Much of what is wrong with the economy is not President Obama’s fault” This is what drives me nuts about this blog, many times trying to walk a tight rope. Every US President faces this type of inherited issue one way or another. For example, the oil embargo was not Carter’s fault. It all lies in how Presidents lead and deal with it. An objective analysis on how stimulus $ were spent and how Obamacare was passed, voice vote, will show that the President is not showing leadership and therefore not helping his cause by inspiring his nation. This is a very poor post.

  • Jim.

    Also consider that being against gay “marriage” may not actually be a losing issue in this country.

    Obama may be shooting himself in the foot there, for the sake of too few activist types.

  • Anthony

    Not that he needs a second; but Thibaud’s …our main problems are MORAL in nature: a political class that refuses to confront hard choices with an honest admission that our “ideologies” are failing…” I second.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Much of what is wrong with the economy is not President Obama’s fault; the incompetence and incoherence of EU policy making, the aging of China’s economic model and India’s faltering management have nothing to do with anything the White House controls.”

    A leader doesn’t focus his energies on blaming others or finding scapegoats. A leader uses his energy to take action and fixes things so that everything gets better. A leader takes responsibility; he realizes that while he didn’t create the mess, it is his responsibility to clean it up. And when a leader does make a mistake, he acknowledges it and immediately seeks to make things right.

    Obama is NOT a leader, he admits to no mistake, and blames others for even his own messes. His entire campaign now is to deflect attention away from the economy, jobs, the debt, healthcare, the budget, and focus it on foolishness like gay marriage, school yard bullies, or some other distraction from his many failures.

  • Tom

    @#7 Thibaud: That’s all well and good.
    How are you going to get them there?

  • Mick The Reactionary

    @thibaud:

    “the standard was set by John Danforth (R) of Missouri, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York, and Dick Lugar (sigh) of Indiana. ”

    The giant, the good man and the pigmy.
    Who do you think is a pigmy?

    If you look in Wikipedia at RINO entry, there is a black-and-white photo of young Senator Dickie taken in 1892.

  • http://Thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    It has always seems important to me that Henry VIII rebellion against the Chruch of Rome lead to the freeing up of assets that said church was taking out of circulation for the benefit of a childless clergy. Large corpporations, universities, hospitals, unions – many of our

  • http://Thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    Sorry my iPad glitches and posted half a comment. To finish – many of our institutions are sitting on their obsolete business models seriously clogging up the economy.

  • thibaud

    pig, my? pig: thine

  • thibaud

    @12 Tom: “How are you going to get them there?”

    I’m not an expert on political reform by any means, but the answer seems to do with two things. If you look at politicians’ career trajectories in our own era vs the previous, Danforth-Lugar-Moynihan era, these two traits leap out:

    1) relatively few of the successful pols in the earlier era made significant money in business, either pre- or post-office. Hardly any went into lobbying; almost none went to work on Wall St or in the investment industry generally.

    2) despite flirtations with radical politics – occasionally on the left but mainly on the far right (McCarthy, Goldwater, Wallace et al) – most paths to political success relied on appeals to the center.

    So it seems that we need first of all to shut down the road that leads back and forth between political office and big money careers. I’d place a ban, effective upon leaving office and good for not less than 5 years (10 would be better), on not just lobbying by ex-pols but also director or insider/officer-level positions with private business enterprises.

    Second, I’d open up the primaries in both parties.

    Third, I’d create a public trust that would fund non-partisan, straight-up news reporting and investigative journalism. This would be a non-profit that would attract stellar reporters, pay them well, and supervise their work closely to ensure accuracy, thoroughness and adherence to the highest standards of serious journalism.

    A good example for this would be The Christian Science Monitor, which has set the standard for decades without any editorial interference by the church. It would not have a print edition or a union but would pay top salaries and have a very large staff of full-time reporters and news bureaus around the world. The annual operating budget would probably be on the order of $200-400 million a year.

    I’m not a lawyer but I’d suppose this nonprofit trust could be funded by a tax on news aggregators such as Google, Microsoft/Bing, AOL, Yahoo and Facebook. Basically, as I understand it, this was what the AP used to do, before they unwisely decided not to sue digital aggregators for ripping of their content.

    Now, you can go ahead and shoot holes in this – the ideologues will certainly fight to the death to keep the primaries closed, and the bloggers will heap scorn on the idea of quality, thorough, straight-shooting journalism – but our current path is leading us downhill. Time for a new path, methinks.

  • thibaud

    Re. today’s pols going for the gold, compare the post-office careers of our presidents before and since GHW Bush.

    Truman refused to cash in, as did Eisenhower, after leaving office. Each died, as I understand it, without much of a personal fortune at all.

    LBJ had his golden radio station – nice investment move, or maybe marriage choice – but otherwise didn’t seek to cash in after 1969. Neither did Nixon or Ford.

    Carter has been preoccupied with promoting his worldview and with helping the homeless. Reagan’s health inhibited his post-office activities, but he and his wife showed no interest in money-making after he left office.

    Now, since the beginning of the spree era – date it from 1992 – we’ve seen a 180-degree change in presidential behavior post-office.

    GHW Bush went on a worldwide money-grubbing tour, speaking for $100k a pop to the likes of the Japanese.

    In addition to his charitable work, Clinton has accumulated a fortune of IIUC over $50 million since 2000.

    VP candidate Al Gore has racked up a 9-figure fortune, built himself a 10,000 sq ft McMansion, divorced his wife, and used his clout to steer public funds into his own personal investments.

    2004 presidential candidate John Kerry engaged in millions of dollars worth of insider trades in Sept 2008, using material information given him and the Senate in confidence by Treasury Sec’y Paulson.

    As to GW Bush, one of the reasons I have always liked him more than Obama was the man’s basic dignity – hidden, to be sure, by his godawful speaking tics and occasional tactless goofiness, but very clear when you compare his behavior with that of his father and his peers on the other side of the aisle.

    We need to sever the link in this country between high political office and big money careers, full stop.

  • thibaud

    correction to above: VP and presidential candidate Al Gore