How Obama mis-spent his summer vacation

Hon. Ernest Istook Former Republican Congressman
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Since 1985, the hands-down winner for worst marketing campaign has been New Coke—the disastrous flop when Coca-Cola tried to change its flavor.

After 25 years, we have a new contender—President Obama’s “Summer of Recovery” slogan of 2010.

The big media splash began in June, touting that “Obama, Biden declare ‘Recovery Summer,’” including six weeks of nationwide barnstorming visits by POTUS and VPOTUS.  All summer, a hyper-active Recovery Blog on the White House website trumpeted what they wanted Americans to believe.  Even the titles seemed to be lifted from works of juvenile fiction:

But the figures said otherwise.  The administration had to eat its earlier words and down-grade the second quarter growth rate from the originally-announced 2.4% to an anemic 1.6% annual rate.

Official reports showed the U.S. economy had lost 125,000 jobs in June, then 131,000 more in July, followed by 54,000 in August, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.6%.  An ABC News headline showed the disconnect between the White House and reality: President Obama Reacts to August Jobs Numbers, Doesn’t Mention Net Job Loss of 54K

Other headlines told a different and more convincing story than Obama’s team could spin: Enormous spending and deficits.  Unemployment high and long-lasting.  Job creation stagnant.  Record deficits.  Car sales slumping.  Home sales plummeting.

The administration’s credibility also plummeted as White House happy talk didn’t match the stubbornly inconvenient facts.  Christina Romer, chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, amazingly said the lousy August numbers “are reassuring that growth and recovery are continuing.”

Obama’s efforts to reach out to his usually-responsive youth audience were stymied by a National League of Cities’ report that began, “Summer jobs prospects for teenagers have been diminishing steadily over the past decade, but early data for June 2010 show that employment rates for the nation’s 16- to 19-year-olds have fallen to stunning new lows.”

It all prompted normally supportive liberal economist Paul Krugman to write, “This isn’t a recovery, in any sense that matters.”

The President had promised allies in Congress that the summer barnstorming tour would trumpet success and turn around the rotten poll numbers for him and his party.  He and the Vice-President made stops in states including Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois, and held fundraisers in states including California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, New York, Washington and Ohio.

But the message on Obama’s teleprompter differed dramatically from what everyday Americans were experiencing.  The New York Times put a “Welcome to the Recovery” title on a Pollyanna op-ed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.  But it was more believable when Geithner admitted to ABC News, “U.S. unemployment may rise again before it falls.  And the economy isn’t recovering rapidly enough.”

The White House and its allies bally-hoo their critics’ claims, but the contrast between the economic picture that the administration paints and the personal experience of most Americans is stark.  That’s unlikely to change.

All is not lost.  Elections are less than two months away.  The Heritage Foundation has submitted 128 pro-growth ideas in its “Solutions for America” proposal.  The public is attentive and active.

But for the White House, Labor Day couldn’t mark the end of summer soon enough.

To America’s left, the classic exaggeration was George W. Bush celebrating success in Iraq while a banner proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished.”  Now the right has its counterpart:  Barack Obama’s “Summer of Recovery.”

Ernest Istook served 14 years as a U.S. Congressman and is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.