As his final term wanes, the New York Times is making excuses for the economy’s performance under President Obama, with the president himself guiding the way.
Economics reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s interview of Obama for the cover of the Times Sunday magazine dug in in defense of Obama. The subhead: “Eight years after the financial crisis, unemployment is at 5 percent, deficits are down and G.D.P. is growing. Why do so many voters feel left behind? The president has a theory.” And Sorkin let him unfold the tale without journalistic pushback. And Mark Landler gushed of Obama's self-defense: "Many historians agree."
Eight years in office certainly hasn’t affected the president’s self-regard.
Two months ago, across an assembly-room table in a factory in Jacksonville, Fla., President Barack Obama was talking to me about the problem of political capital. His efforts to rebuild the U.S. economy from the 2008 financial crisis were being hit from left, right and center. And yet, by his own assessment, those efforts were vastly underappreciated. “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” he said. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.”
....As his presidency nears its end, this has become an increasingly common refrain from Obama, who, despite his prodigious skills as an orator, has come to seem more confident about his achievements than about his ability to promote them. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
In other words: Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?
Obama is animated by a sense that, looking at the world around him, the U.S. economy is in much better shape than the public appreciates, especially when measured against the depths of the financial crisis and the possibility -- now rarely even considered -- that things could have been much, much worse. Over a series of conversations in the Oval Office, on Air Force One and in Florida, Obama analyzed, sometimes with startling frankness, nearly every element of his economic agenda since he came into office. His economy has certainly come further than most people recognize. The private sector has added jobs for 73 consecutive months -- some 14.4 million new jobs in all -- the longest period of sustained job growth on record. Unemployment, which peaked at 10 percent the year Obama took office, the highest it had been since 1983, under Ronald Reagan, is now 5 percent, lower than when Reagan left office. The budget deficit has fallen by roughly $1 trillion during his two terms. And overall U.S. economic growth has significantly outpaced that of every other advanced nation.
Sorkin let Obama blame recalcitrant Republicans for lack of higher growth, and to insist he had no choice but to turn to executive actions that supposedly spurred growth, such as raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers and protecting illegals form deportation. Yet precisely how those anti-business, anti-U.S. worker ideas were supposed to speed up growth remained undetailed.
Sorkin concluded by letting Obama spout an anti-Reaganite cri de coeur disguised as an economic philosophy.
He continued: “If we can’t puncture some of the mythology around austerity, politics or tax cuts or the mythology that’s been built up around the Reagan revolution, where somehow people genuinely think that he slashed government and slashed the deficit and that the recovery was because of all these massive tax cuts, as opposed to a shift in interest-rate policy -- if we can’t describe that effectively, then we’re doomed to keep on making more and more mistakes.”
Friday’s paper provided an aperitif to Sunday’s biased bounty, with reporter Mark Landler setting up Sorkin’s interview and making excuses for the president once again in “Obama Is Lobbying for a Positive Legacy.”
As President Obama eases into the stocktaking stretch of his presidency, he has begun to unburden himself to select journalists. But the president’s tone is less reflective than frustrated that the American public does not see his achievements the way he does.
Mr. Obama’s challenge, at least on economic and foreign policy, is that he is often trying to prove a negative: Without the steps he took -- or didn’t take -- he asserts that things would have turned out so much worse. He notes, for example, that he has avoided the military misadventures of his predecessor, George W. Bush. His bailouts of the economy and the auto industry, he says, prevented the Great Recession from hemorrhaging into a Great Depression.
Landler found a liberal professor to agree.
Many historians agree.
“He’s made a huge difference in the fact that the country didn’t suffer more greatly,” said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian who has discussed Mr. Obama’s legacy with him. “But saving the country from a deeper crisis, from a Great Depression, is not exciting. Incremental gains don’t capture the public’s excitement, the excitement of young people.”
Dallek is no fan of conservatives, likening the Tea Party to “the politics of resentment," in a meeting with the president himself, who readily agreed.
Landler tried to turn lemons into lemonade.
The president has shown a similar aversion to exaggerating the threat from militant groups like the Islamic State.
“ISIL does not speak for Islam,” Mr. Obama said in December, using the administration’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State. “They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world -- including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim.”
Republican candidates assailed Mr. Obama’s low-key response as evidence of his failure to lead. On the campaign trail, even Mrs. Clinton used starker language than he did in describing the threat.
Also in the magazine, economics reporter Annie Lowrey took the straight Keynesian line that government spending boosts the economy in “Where Did the Government Jobs Go?” The subhead: “Long a ticket to the middle class, especially for African-Americans, they have become increasingly difficult to find.”
Lowrey’s consistent knee-jerk liberalism begs for the old joke about a post-apocalyptic New York Times headline: "World Ends: Women and Minorities Hardest Hit."
She focused on Louisiana and conservative Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget cutting, or as she put it, “The public sector’s slow decimation....”
He laid off more than just bureaucrats. Jindal cut appropriations for higher education, shifting the cost burden onto students themselves. (State spending per student was down more than 40 percent between 2008 and 2014; just one state, Arizona, cut more.) And he shuttered or privatized nine charity hospitals that served the state’s uninsured and indigent. They were outdated and costly, Jindal argued, and private management would improve access, care and the bottom line. Huey P. Long was one of those hospitals.
The public sector’s slow decimation is one of the unheralded reasons that the middle class has shrunk as the ranks of the poor and the rich have swollen in the post-recession years. This is certainly true in Louisiana, where five of the 10 biggest employers are public institutions, or health centers that in no small part rely on public funds....