August 3, 2010

Geithner's "Tough Economy" Comments Aim To Lower Expectations

Honest as the day is long...
For a White House in permanent campaign mode, nothing that is said can be done without assessing the impact of the comments on polling and voter enthusiasm.  While the Obama administration seems to be in perma-campaign mode (really), when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner makes comments about a tough economy, they are not empathizing with Americans - they are lowering expectations among voters so that come election time, anything better than dismal, will hopefully play for them as a success.

President Obama may have realized early on he shouldn't talk about the economy because he doesn't know what he's saying.  Remember when he pitched the stimulus bill (ARRA) as the ONLY thing that would stop unemployment from going above 8%? The same rate that now is just shy of 10%, having broken that mark earlier in the recession? Better to shut up than put up after that mistake, the logic must go.    But then, the economy has languished and while the Democrats were fiddling with health care while the economy burned, the demands to actually pay attention to the economy intensified almost as strongly as the opposition to health care reform.

You can't hide from reality forever.  At some point the President had to address unemployment as his top priority.  With no appetite for more stimulus money been thrown down the sink hole, there isn't much wiggle room for the administration.  The only solution is to play politics.  Timothy Geithner's comments do just that.
"When they see a little hope that there may be jobs out there, they start to come back in again. And that can cause the measured unemployment rate to go up — temporarily," Geithner told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview. "But what we expect to see, and I think most forecasters expect this…is an economy that's gradually healing, gradually strengthening, businesses starting to add people back."
The economy is not rebounding as quickly as Geithner and the Obama administration would like, he said. Last week's economic report card showed the Gross Domestic Product grew at a rate of 2.4 percent, slower than it had earlier this year. But amid that bad news, Geithner said, were signs of growth in the private sector.
The conversation with Stephanopolous on Good Morning America drifted inevitably towards extending or expiring the Bush tax cuts, so that Geithner could get in a quick 'blame Bush' or two.  But the crux of the matter is that if you say things are going to get worse before they get better it can't hurt and it might help politically.  If the unemployment rate improves before your projection you can claim the ARRA stimulus really is working better than predicted.  You can argue things will just take off in a few months and voters should remember that when they go to the polls in November.  It's sort of a 'we did it!' moment, true or not.

And if the unemployment rate does get worse, you can argue, hey - we predicted this was going to happen.  It's painful, but it's all part of President Obama's master plan.  And since we saw this coming, we know happy days are just around the corner now.  So keep that in mind when you go to the polls in November.

In either case, the idea is to get voters thinking worst case scenario, because anything will look rosy compared to that.  And getting in those blame Bush comments wherever possible, they are clearly trying to tie the problems to him while tying the future looks bright notion to themselves.

Lost in all this political chicanery of a continuous campaign focus, is the idea of stepping aside and letting the private sector do it's thing.  That's the real antidote to languishing in lousy stimulus waters with no rescue in sight.  But if they were serious about that, they would have favored tax cuts to government spending in the first place.  We all know that's not how liberals, socialists and progressives think.

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