President Barack Obama appeared on CNBC on Thursday afternoon to tout his new “economic patriotism” message, which centers primarily on ginning up populist outrage while shaming companies that relocate offshore or acquire assets abroad in order to avoid America’s high corporate tax rate.
In that interview, Obama teased his CNBC interlocutor, economics reporter Steve Liesman, with the prospect of tax code reform – the great white whale of economists since the last reform effort in 1986. That successful bipartisan tax reform initiative was one of Ronald Reagan’s primary second term goals and the process of negotiating reform began shortly after his second inauguration. There is virtually no chance that a major tax code overhaul will pass Congress after the midterms when Obama is a full-fledged lame duck and less than zero chance of such a measure passing in an election year.
But the proposal piqued Liesman’s interest, so Obama’s mission was accomplished. The president was really just riffing anyway.
The true reason for Obama’s appearance on CNBC was to tout his administration’s own successes and to shift the conversation away from a rapidly imploding international environment. In that effort, though, Obama encountered a journalistic roadblock.
When confronted about the fact that Obama’s own former economic advisors have warned that America is in for a sustained period of slower growth, the president deftly avoided answering the question. Instead, he pivoted to a patriotic “bullish” message about the capacity of America to endure any hardship and emerge stronger from it.
He was also quick to note, oddly, that his administration should enjoy some credit for the slowest post-recession recovery period in American history.
“If you think of where we were when I came into office and where we are now, it’s pretty hard to find an economic measure where we’re not significantly better off,” Obama said.
The president was in luck. Liesman had one.
“Mr. President, I can confirm most of your data as the economics reporter for CNBC, but median family incomes – that’s one that is not doing better,” Liesman said.
Obama insisted that, contrary to Liesman’s point, “these are 20, 30-year trends that we’ve been seeing,” but he did accept the fact that he had been fact-checked. The president’s solution to these 20, 30-year trends was, of course, raising the federal minimum wage. Oh, and roads and bridges.
Moving on, Liesman asked the president if he was concerned about the fact that the stock market continues to rise in spite of a lack of fundamental strength in the overall economy. “Are you concerned there is a bubble out there like we had in ’01 and ’08?” Liesman asked.
“I try to avoid commenting on the day-to-day trends in the stock market,” Obama replied. This response came approximately two minutes after Obama cited the stock market in particular as one metric which indicates the strength of America’s recovery from the 2008 recession.
Other than that, it was a stellar showing.