WaPo: WH trapped by its own economic rhetoric

Shed no tears over the plight of the administration, as reported by the Washington Post’s Michael Shear this morning.  The nation’s rising frustration on the economy has left the Obama White House reluctant to brag about its accomplishments, Shear reports, and that has its allies on Capitol Hill angry.  The problem is that the “accomplishments” Shear cites are nothing but spin, and both the public and the White House know it:

That sense of frustration among voters has developed despite what White House officials see as a series of successes in the last year and a half: health care reform, Wall Street reform (perhaps to be passed Thursday), and an economic turnaround that has turned staggering monthly job losses into modest monthly job gains.

Republicans, who are hoping to seize control of Congress, point to unemployment numbers that remain near 10 percent, not the 8 percent that White House officials predicted. And they say the public is fed up with the nation’s soaring debt, which the GOP blames on Obama and the Democrats in Congress.

Either way, West Wing officials like Gibbs are trapped now. The more they talk about their economic and legislative successes, the more danger there is that they seem out of touch with the public’s sense of frustration.

And yet, without touting the president’s victories, they leave their allies in Congress at the mercy of an increasingly sour public mood.

The real problem is with the way the White House argues about the jobs numbers.  I’ve repeatedly pointed out that job losses are cumulative, and that “modest” job growth 18 months out doesn’t negate the massive job losses from earlier.  The White House pitched its massive Porkulus plan as a means to keep unemployment below 8%, and that without spending almost a trillion dollars of money we didn’t have in the first place, it might go as high as 10%.  In fact, the jobs situation got worse, and shows no sign of improving, as these charts, which I have displayed before, note.  First, let’s look at total employment over the last 30 months, with the red star showing the passage of Porkulus (numbers in thousands, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics):

And now let’s look at the percentage of the civilian population participating in the workforce, from which unemployment numbers derive:

Both of these charts show the bad news that Americans are experiencing first-hand, and that White House spin simply fails to explain.  There are fewer jobs and more people out of work, and the problem is getting worse instead of improving.  Talking about “modest job growth” ignores the impact of population growth, but even less technically, ignores the fact that the US has lost millions of jobs while the White House touts the creation of a handful as some sort of victory.

The latest dodge in this area is to claim that Porkulus avoided a depression, but that’s a three-card Monty argument, as I wrote over the weekend.  Obama sold Porkulus as a way to limit job losses, which it has obviously failed to do, as seen above.  The Depression-saving argument refers to TARP, not Porkulus, and that’s still debatable.  Most of the TARP decisions came before Obama took office, except for his decision to bail out the automakers with it — and then interfere with the legal bankruptcy process to favor the unions over the senior creditors.

If the White House has trouble selling its economic “victories,” it’s because it has no real inventory to sell.