By The Hill Staff - 02/17/09 04:17 PM EST
Unfortunately, the president is so anxious to use the bad economy as an excuse to get every last little bit of government spending in the budget, he has pushed the markets down by a nonstop drumbeat of bad news and harsh predictions. When the president says that we may be entering a downturn from which there is no ready escape, investors, consumers, producers and businesspeople tend to listen and avoid any spending or risk. Obama has spent so much time warning of the disaster ahead that he is doing little from his bully pulpit to avert it.
For Obama, shifting to optimism runs the risk that he loses his credibility if his predictions do not bear fruit. Mounting unemployment numbers could make a mockery of his optimism.
Broadly, Obama faces two negative trends over the next few months. On the one hand, the weekly jobless claims and unemployment data will beat a dirge for which the public will hold him increasingly responsible. This drip-drip-drip will become his equivalent of the casualty lists from Iraq that proved to be Bush’s undoing.
But, in addition, he will face criticism for his stimulus bill as the spending it envisions actually begins to take shape. The price he will pay for his arrogance in ramming the laundry list of government spending through Congress without even letting the members read what they were approving is that the media will focus on each item and make his people justify its inclusion. There will be an ex post facto review of the law, and voters will begin to wonder how economic development aid to Western Samoa or $50 million to the arts will stimulate the economy.
The foreground of negative economic news and the backdrop of revelations of waste and profligacy in the stimulus package will not make for a happy combination in the eyes of increasingly skeptical voters. Already, Rasmussen reports that only 38 percent feel the stimulus package will do much good, while the rest feel it will either harm the economy or have no real effect.
But if Obama doesn’t talk up the economy and emphasize how effective the stimulus package is in ending the recession, he will be throwing away one of his most potent weapons.
All a stimulus package can do is put money in people’s hands. It can’t make them spend it on things that help the economy. If all they hear from the White House is negatives and doom, they will sequester the money in bills or use it to pay down debts, neither of which will do Main Street much good, not to mention Wall Street.
Is the president capable of optimism after years of preaching doom, first in Iraq and now in the economy? We are about to see if he can master a second language.
Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Outrage. To get all of Dick Morris’s and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or order a signed copy of their new best-selling book, Fleeced, go to dickmorris.com.