Plouffe: Unemployment Won’t be Key in 2012. Oh, really?

Giving new meaning to the old idiom “whistling past the graveyard,” senior Obama political adviser David Plouffe claimed Wednesday that voters in 2012 won’t cast their ballots based on the unemployment rate:

Plouffe, who ran Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, previewed the arguments the president and his team will sound 16 months before an election that could be a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy. While history has shown the unemployment rate to be a leading indicator of an incumbent’s success, Plouffe said Americans won’t base their votes on it.

“The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers,” Plouffe said. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’”

History argues otherwise. No incumbent American president in 65 years has won a second term with a national unemployment rate above 7.2 percent. In fact, Ronald Reagan was the only U.S. president to win reelection while the jobless rate was greater than 6 percent. But, as blogger JWF points out in a Human Events guest op-ed, “Obama sure as heck is no Reagan”:

With unemployment currently at 9.1% and with little hope of it falling precipitously in sight, the Obama campaign apparently will be running a “feelings” based campaign. That and they plan to scare the daylights out of people.

“So all of them are basically just bringing out the same old war horses,” senior adviser David Plouffe said yesterday at a Bloomberg Breakfast in Washington. “Let Wall Street kind of run amok, cut taxes for the wealthy, starve investment in things like education, research and development.”

Gee, somehow he left killing Grandma off the litany of doom and gloom.

So instead of focusing on issues like long-term unemployment, crushing debt, out-of-control spending, a weak dollar, record numbers on food stamps, a skyrocketing misery index and an overwhelming majority who feel we’re on the wrong track, let’s talk about feelings.

Well, right now Americans are feeling very concerned for their future and there isn’t any good economic news to feel good about.

Plouffe should remember full well the hand made sign James Carville posted on the wall of the Clinton campaign “war room” in 1991 which coined a phrase often repeated in American political culture: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton’s opponent, incumbent president George H. W. Bush, had enjoyed a job approval rating as high as 90 percent based on the success of the U.S. led coalition in the first Gulf War, but as Americans became concerned about a sluggish economy, Bush’s numbers had sharply declined. 64 percent were disapproving of his job performance by August of 1992.

Another idiom, one which has been absent from the political lexicon since the days of Carter and Reagan, is threatening to make a comeback, because the Misery Index is on the rise:

Conceived by economist Arthur Okun in the early 1970s, the Misery Index simply adds together the inflation and unemployment rates to create an effective indicator of real-world suffering.

It gained notoriety under President Carter, whose growth-choking, easy-money policies pushed the index to its post-World War II high. Now, under President Obama’s equally disastrous economic policies, the Misery Index is making its return.

The annual inflation rate for May climbed to 3.6% as price spikes spread beyond oil and food. At the same time, May’s unemployment rate edged up to 9.1%, yielding a Misery Index of 12.7.

That marks the fourth straight monthly increase in the index, which is now 62% higher than it was when Obama took office, and 57% higher than it was when the recession officially ended.

Obama’s Misery Index average of 10.37 is higher than George W. Bush’s (8.11) or Bill Clinton’s (7.8).

Actually, Obama’s misery index is even worse than Jimmy Carter’s because, as Addison Wiggin explains, “government has gamed both elements of the misery index in the ensuing 28 years”:

People who’ve given up looking for work no longer count as unemployed. Statisticians make the rising price of steak go away by assuming you buy less steak and more hamburger. And so on.

John Williams at still runs the numbers the way they were in those bygone days. Let’s recalculate…

22.3% unemployment + 11.2% consumer price index = 33.5% misery index

That compares to a peak misery index of 22.0% in June 1980.

If circumstances now feel worse than they did then, if the “recovery” of the last two years seems like a chimera, now you have a statistical glimpse why.

It is indeed the economy, Mr. Plouffe, and if you want to talk about “feelings,” people are feeling pretty miserable right now about that economy. Just how badly they feel is reflected in Obama’s approval ratings, which were briefly bumped on the news that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden, but have now returned to their previous level of 46 percent. No president with a Gallup approval rating of 47 percent or less has won re-election.

Update: More bad news for the economy and the president. the unemployment rate has risen to 9.2 percent.

- JP


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