Regrets, he’s had a few. But most of them have had to do with the rosy picture he painted of what the economy would look like following a swift infusion of “Obamanomics.”
The president spent much of his time on the post-campaign campaign trail in 2009 promising that the unprecedented sum of money passed by Congress as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) would have a speedy and positive effect on the economy. Roads, bridges, and “shovel-ready” jobs would quickly put Americans back to work. When that massive sum of borrowed money failed to have its intended effect on the unemployment rate, Obama realized and confessed too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”
The president’s latest lament is also about how he approached the economic recovery when first taking office. While Obama did not express any regret over his administration’s impulse to pass the failed stimulus and forge doggedly ahead with health care reform, he did confess that he regretted not preparing the American people for hard years that lay before them. In a town hall appearance in Jamaica on Wednesday, Obama admitted that he was too sanguine about the state of the economy and had misled the public about the effectiveness of his economic policy preferences.
“I would have probably advised was that I might have needed to warn the American people and paint a picture for them that was more accurate about the fact that it would take some time to dig ourselves out of a very big hole,” Obama said after he was asked what advice he would give to his younger self in 2008. “With us, we came in just as people were really starting to feel the impacts. And trying to paint a picture that we’ll make it but it’s going to take some time, and here are the steps that we need to take — I think I would have advised myself to do a better job spending more time not just getting the policy right, but also describing it in ways that people understood, that gave them confidence in their own future.”
Democratic partisans can rest assured that Obama still thinks his administration took the right policy approach to the addressing the financial crisis. That’s going to be cold comfort for the millions of Americans who count themselves out of work or underemployed. Despite the fact that America’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since the collapse of the housing market, that number does not reflect the reduced labor force participation rate which remains at its lowest point since the late 1970s.
With hiring the weakest that it has been in 15 months according to the March employment report and no arctic blast to blame for that reduced hiring, economists are beginning to wonder if there even is much of a recovery. “If the workforce participation rate today were as high as it was on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated, the unemployment rate in this country would be 9.7 percent, we wouldn’t be complaining about the bad recovery because we wouldn’t call it a recovery,” the columnist George Will said on Sunday.
Well, at least Obama thinks he got the policy right. He concedes, however, that he should have warned you before he was reelected to a second term in the White House just how dire the economic situation was. Better late than never?