Saturday's story from the Obama trail by New York Times reporter Mark Landler, "Obama Urges Voters to Look Ahead on Economy," was not as blatantly pro-president as Landler's June 29 paean hailing the president as "bailing out the auto industry, winding down two wars and dispatching Osama bin Laden." But it was still quite sympathetic to the president's plight.
The text box highlighted Obama's hunt for economic silver linings ("Extracting a few bits of good news from an anemic monthly employment report") and the lead polished his halo as an "evangelist of hope and change."
For President Obama, evangelist of hope and change, it’s not easy to confront an election season with so little of either.
On Friday, after the release of the third straight anemic employment report, Mr. Obama found himself on a campaign bus tour, conceding that the economy was not generating enough jobs, that the recovery was not taking hold quickly enough, and that too many Americans lacked basic financial security.
“It’s still tough out there,” Mr. Obama said to a sympathetic crowd in an elementary school gymnasium in Poland, Ohio. Later, in Pittsburgh, he said, “Too many of our friends and family members and neighbors are still out of work; too many folks still are seeing their home property values underwater.”
With few signs that the labor market will strengthen much before Election Day, Mr. Obama is honing a vocabulary to talk about the listless economy -- one that emphasizes a glass-is-half-full approach to the numbers and an appeal to voters to take the long view when assessing the nation’s economic fortunes.
The president dug out the few tidbits of good news from the June report, pointing out that businesses generated 84,000 new jobs last month and 4.4 million over all since the end of the recession. Among those millions, he went on, 500,000 were in manufacturing -- a relevant yardstick on a whistle-stop tour of two industrial states.
“That’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “But we can’t be satisfied because our goal was never to just keep on working to get back to where we were back in 2007.”
The president then pivoted to longer-term economic trends, which he said have deepened inequality and put at risk the future of the middle class. Lengthening the frame of reference allows Mr. Obama to argue that the problems of today are not principally his fault, but the result of a Republican philosophy practiced by the Bush administration and advocated by Mr. Obama’s challenger, Mitt Romney.
Landler supplemented that view with a left-wing economist who once worked for the administration (Bernstein is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)
“These numbers confirm that this economy is stuck just north of neutral,” said Jared Bernstein, a former chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “We’re making progress, but it’s much too slow.”
Mr. Bernstein said there was little point in Mr. Obama trying to sugarcoat the economy. But he said the president could make a credible case that he had broken the Great Recession but, because of gridlock in Washington, had not been able to finish the job.