The Obama Watch

The Night and Day Economy

In defending the stimulus, the White House wants us to believe that the state of the economy is simultaneously both better than expected and worse than expected.

By 7.10.09

When it comes to the economy, the Obama administration has declared that it is both night and day at the same time. 

In recent weeks the White House and Congressional Democrats have been facing more questions about the wisdom of their $787 billion stimulus package.

Sen. Chris Dodd conceded that the spending has not been targeted properly, while House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse have said we should be open to considering another stimulus. Such an idea recalls the joke Woody Allen tells about two elderly women dining at a restaurant in the Catskills. One says to the other, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." And the other responds, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions."

When the Obama team was selling the stimulus package, it forecast that the unemployment rate would be about 8 percent by now if the legislation passed, but in June it was 9.5 percent and Obama predicts it will reach the double-digits in the coming months.

As this criticism has taken hold, the White House has launched a series of defenses. However, to believe them, one would have to accept that the state of the economy is simultaneously both better than expected and worse than expected.

"[K]eep in mind the stimulus package was the first thing we did, and we did it a couple of weeks after inauguration," Obama explained during a news conference last month. "At that point nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like. If you recall, it was only significantly later that we suddenly get a report that the economy had tanked."

At first blush, that's hard to swallow, considering that when he was selling the stimulus measure, Obama spoke about the state of the economy in rather bleak terms.

"[T]his is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill recession," Obama said during a February prime time news conference aimed at making the case for the legislation. "We are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."

But even if we were to grant Obama's assertion that things are much worse than anticipated, it's still difficult to square that with another defense the administration is trying to employ.

"Four months ago we were on the precipice of rolling from a great recession into something deeper and darker," Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, told the Wall Street Journal this week. "We've pulled the economy away from that precipice."

He added, "People have forgotten too quickly the severity and depth of the recession."

To recap, under one view of reality, nobody knew how bad the recession would get, while under another view, the administration's economic programs have succeeded so swimmingly that Americans can't even remember how bad things were a few months ago. Only both views are being pushed by the same administration to defend the same policy.

It would be one thing if such comments were an aberration, but these contradictory arguments have been employed by White House officials for weeks.

"We misread how bad the economy was," Joe Biden told George Stephanopoulos on Saturday.

Yet last month on Meet the Press, Biden said, "The economy is actually getting better, things are getting better." He explained, "Prior to us taking office, the job loss for the month was over 700,000 jobs. It's been over 600,000. Since we've taken office the job loss has dropped now to 343,000 jobs; below other people's estimates, below the consensus estimate. Can I claim credit that all of that's due, due to the recovery package? No. But it clearly has had an impact."

Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, also went on Meet the Press last month.

"[E]very single economic prediction was that the recession would be less severe than it turned out to be," Axelrod said. But at the same time he argued that the country was "moving in the right direction" as a result of the administration's economic policies.

Since the economic stimulus bill was passed in February, the economy has shed roughly two million jobs. With public support for President Obama beginning to show signs of weakening just as his major health care push begins in earnest, it's no surprise that the administration would pull out all the stops to defend its economic policies. But even for Obama, it will be hard to convince the public that it's both night and day at the same time.

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Philip Klein is The American Spectator's Washington correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Philipaklein