From the Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — As President Bush spoke about the state of the nation’s economy recently in the century-old Grand theater in New Albany, Ind., his words were as cheery as the vaudeville acts that once played there.
But the storyline beyond the stage is closer to film noir.
Gasoline? More than $3 a gallon in most of the country, up more than 85 cents from a year ago. Housing prices? Falling. Mortgage payments? On the rise. Financial markets? Up, down, up, down. The dollar? Down. Way down.
The president acknowledged the economic woes, calling them “serious challenges.” But he pointed out that the nation’s job growth was on a record-setting 50-month run, unemployment was “a low 4.7%” and in the third quarter the economy grew at “a vigorous rate of 3.9%.” He spoke of “economic vitality” and the 8.3 million jobs created by “American entrepreneurs and dreamers and doers.”
The message reflected the president’s campaign to calm fears about the economy with a sunny outlook as the nation heads into the election year that could prove troubling to a Republican Party burdened with his unpopular leadership. In the last six weeks, he has made at least five speeches in which he talked up the economy.
But it is an increasingly difficult pitch for Bush: Polls show that Americans are growing more pessimistic about the economy, with more saying it is doing poorly than at any other time in the last five years. And the projections of private economists and the Federal Reserve Board suggest that pessimism is well-founded.
[Allan H.] Meltzer [a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business] and other economists said the president’s morale-boosting speeches were up against the realities that Americans encountered each day, which figures into perceptions of the economy along with the data and trends the president cites.
“They are influenced most by what they see,” he said. They may find a 2% raise reflected in their paycheck, but what they see “at grocery stores and gas stations is chewing it up.”
Tim Vercellotti, director of polling at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, said: “Hearing statements about . . . the robust nature of the economy is not as persuasive as what you hear in your social network: A neighbor losing a house, or a relative filing for unemployment. That resonates more. Or just buying gas these days.”
With the economy starting to edge out the war in Iraq as the main concern of voters, and the Rethuglicans nervous about their chances in the 2008 presidential election, you know they aren’t going to trust
spokemodel White House press secretary Dana Perino with this hot potato. Nope. This is a job for Kevin Sullivan!
Kevin Sullivan, White House communications director, said that in discussing what Sullivan called “kitchen-table issues,” Bush was careful to recognize the daily economic realities that Americans face and “to empathize with someone who is struggling with gas prices or college tuition.” Similarly, the economic shocks of his presidency have become a Bush mantra: the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Enron and other corporate scandals and Hurricane Katrina. The ability of the nation’s economy to overcome them, Bush argues, demonstrates its inherent strength.
And Bush’s use of figures demonstrating economic growth or low unemployment, Sullivan said, strengthen the president’s argument. “He’s very credible on the economy because of his record,” the White House aide said. “It’s not just him saying, ‘Trust me.’
Would you excuse me for just a moment, please……….
Sorry, now where were we?
Critics say that in addition to looking backward, Bush is cherry-picking economic statistics to find those that allow him to present an upbeat report.
Unemployment continues to hover below 5%, “but the quality of the jobs people have is deteriorating, the income gap is increasing, and there is more job insecurity,” said Michael S. Lewis-Beck, a political economist at the University of Iowa.
At the same time, he said, inflation is low, but “is starting to heat up.” The Consumer Price Index grew 3.5% in October over the previous October. And economic growth for 2007 is predicted to end up around 2% — a sizable drop from the third quarter’s 3.9% that Bush touts.
In the end, Lewis-Beck and others said, Bush risks his credibility on the economy by presenting a picture that does not mesh with people’s experiences.
Oh, c’mon, Mr. Lewis-Beck! Chimpy and credibility don’t even belong in the same sentence unless there is a big fat not in there!