Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Post No. 147: This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True

We recently read an article about how President Obama became so unpopular in the short time since his election.

The Senior Fellow of the Institute, Laughingman, operates a couple of blogs. One focuses on marketing and advertising issues. We issued this challenge to his readers:

“What would ad professionals do to assist the President to improve his image / approval rating just before mid-term elections, considering he really can not do much about the economy?”

One of the participants responded with the following, which we decided to share.

© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Simply put, President Obama has been poorly served by his political advisers. Some heads should roll, including that belonging to his Chief of Staff.

When newly elected President Clinton presented his first spending proposals, his economic advisers told him they were unaffordable, and that Wall Street would not put up with them.

This led to Clinton's famous lament, "Are you telling me that the future of my presidency is in the hands of a bunch of bond traders?"

Rahm Emmanuel's advice on the original melt down in Detroit is reported in Steve Rattner's book as, "[Muck] the UAW."

Considering the history of the Clinton administration's conflicts with Republicans in Congress, this was a strange and veracity-challenged approach to begin with. Considering that President Obama had represented himself as an individual capable of building bi-partisan coalitions with the opposition, his selection of Emmanuel boggles the mind.

From the beginning of the Clinton administration to the end of the Bush era, the share of national income trousered by the top 1% of earners increased from 9% to 28%.

To prevent a self-inflicted melt down of our banks, we are
lending the banks our money at less than 1%, and allowing them to lend it back to us at up to 15%, when they feel the urge to lend to us, if at all.

Housing prices, the engine behind the last recovery, are down by 30%, and are likely to fall even further while wages continue to fall, as corporations take advantage of a 9.5% unemployment rate, and a 16%+ underemployment rate.

In the mean time, CEO compensation for the 50% of companies which have dismissed the most workers has increased by better than 40%.

With two months left until the next election, and the President's approval numbers sinking faster than the Titanic (and about to explode a la Hindenburg), what is the best strategy to reverse the impending?

Simply let Obama be Obama.

And thus the title of this piece, which reflects the ultimate in personal responsibility.

A couple of years ago, the majority of voters elected a newcomer with some undefined, intangible quality which led them to say, “He’s our guy.”

It is his responsibility to lead using that same intangible which got him elected.

There is no way to change the opinions, however flaky and factless, of Rush Limbaugh's audience, or Glenn Beck’s parishioners. In this polarized society, the only path to Democrat survival is to get the Democrat faithful up off their asses and into voting booths.

Trying to defuse all of the disinformation floating around out there just
plays into the hands of the opposition, and the nation will be the loser in the long term.

On the announcement of the (equally ridiculed by Wall Street) $5/day wage,
Henry Ford explained he was trying to build a mass market product. "If my workers can't buy them, who will?"

That is not exactly the attitude "[Muck] the UAW" conveys.

Expanding Medicare and Medicaid to ensure that our citizens are protected
from health-borne economic disaster is not an extravagance - it is arguably part of the “unalienable right…” to the “pursuit of happiness.”

Last year, Humana, one of the nation’s largest health care providers, dismissed 700 health care professionals and replaced them with newly-hired accountants....

Can you spell "gaming the system?"

Our economy will continue to suffer until we find a way to rebuild consumer confidence which translates into buying power, which represents 70% of our GDP, and that’s not going to take place prior to the elections.

Giving members of Congress (the only class of criminals native to the
United States of America) something to be proud of may be beyond the powers of any president, but giving the voters a choice they can be proud of is part and
parcel of the president's Bully Pulpit.

At least that’s what I would do.

But in the next election, I’d rather be working for the Republicans. At least I would have a better chance of getting paid....


  1. Excellent! This responder absolutely nailed it. I, too, have wondered what Obama's staff and PR folks are doing to him. Perhaps they are part of a Republican plot because they are not letting Obama do what he does best - be himself. He is overly criticized for not fixing the country's ailments overnight, and he seems to be kept behind closed doors until he is on display for a specific occasion. This man with great vision needs to roll up his sleeves again and take the helm. If his staff can't do any better at PR, he needs new employees.

  2. Thanks much Iris for weighing in. [It’s been awhile, although considering the manner in which you have mastered Face Book, we can well understand. You’ve taught us a few things about using that social networking tool.]

    The article which prompted the generation of this post is “How Mr. Obama Became Mr. Unpopular.”

    YOU hit the nail on the head, in our opinion, when you noted that he is being “…criticized for not fixing the country’s ailments overnight.” Where we disagree with you is with respect to your use of the adjective “overly” to describe the criticism.

    He, we, the Democrats, the Republicans, and everyone in the Universe including the Obama kids, knew that what took 25 - 35 years to evolve, on the watch of both Republican and Democrat administrations and Congresses, could not be turned around in 18 – 24 months.

    We also knew that the criticism, when it came, would be swift and scathing.

    Back in October 2008, we wrote a piece entitled, “Why We are Concerned that Obama Might Win,” where we predicted the current state of affairs, to the penny. We’re not any rocket scientists over here at the Institute, just pragmatic men, paying attention.

    What would you do Iris, for the second half of the President’s term?

  3. You don't think that it is his policies... the Health care bill, the extra stimulus bill, the bailouts and takeover of GM and Chrysler, the promise that these would not increase the deficit (yet they did)... which were all hugely unpopular moves that had something to do with it?

  4. Yes, it is his policies Douglas, but more importantly we believe it is the "discomfort" that people are feeling about virtually everything going on in the world today. It's become "more personal" since more people are affected, and people are uncomfortable with change unless they control it and the decision is voluntary. In this instance, things are happening to us.

    We do not live in some isolated vacuum. The forces affecting the US are much larger than us, and extend globally.

    We strongly suspect that neither side really knows what they’re doing, nor does any group of experts know what to do.

    This is an area of uncharted waters, and everyone has theories, including the President. He's placing his untested theories into action, and people are uncomfortable. Even if the executed policies are the "right" ones, that is something which we will not know for several years down the road, even if then.

    This economic problem is simply too large, complex, and interconnected with the economies of other nations, over which the US has no control. To fix most things in the universe, you have to get them to sit still at least for a short period of time. This is a dynamic situation.
    If we as a society actually knew what worked, and could establish a cause and effect relationship with any certainty, we would have done it by now. Don’t you think?
    If the solutions were that clear cut, wouldn't you think that the governments of some other large world economics would have placed those solutions into action already? Any self-respecting, honest person would not claim WITH CERTAINTY that what they did at point X led directly to condition Y. Who really knows that? Let's get real folks.
    Quite frankly, we don't think that any leader or legislative body ever KNOWS that what they do will have a specific, desired effect. Like any business person, they simply just give it their best shot and hope and pray that things will turn out OK. At least business people have more control over their smaller businesses.

  5. Despite the fact that the Obama administration has determined that all of our current troubles were caused by the policies of the previous administration, people should understand it the way you have. The problems always begin at the end of an administration. Clinton had a great economy after the first couple of years and it lasted until the Dot Com bubble burst in the last 18 months.

    I think the real downfall of this economy began in 2007 with the great crunch being triggered by a combination of the housing bubble popping and the very rapid increase in oil prices in the summer of 2008.

    Our crunch affected the global economy more than the global economy affected us. Yet, we may be the last to recover. And that, I think, is the result of the current policies.

    I believe the administration is doing what it thinks is right. Unfortunately, the policies are not having the effect they think they should. A better administration would back away from those policies. This one isn't. And that is why the numbers are dropping. It isn't the fault of his appointees and advisers... after all, he picked them. He is the CEO, it's on him.

    You cannot "fix" an economy. You can encourage it, you can "nudge" it this way or that. You can help create a friendly economic climate for business to grow in. But transforming it into something other than what it has been for 2 hundred years will not work.

  6. Douglas:

    Without specifically addressing what you have outlined, much of which legitimate, let us pose this to you:

    You're the new owner of an NFL team here in the US. Your team is a legitimate contender and has made the playoffs in recent years, but has not won the Super Bowl. You've just hired a newcoach, unloaded some of the dead wood, and brought in a number of fresh, new players.

    How do you know, with any degree of certainty, that what you have done will work this season, or next season for that matter? State for us the things that you can do which have a clear cause and effect relationship on your ability to win the Super Bowl this year, or next. Identify those things done by coaches and owners over the last 20 - 25 years which still affect the team, and those done by the immediately preceding ownership and coaching staff which you have to clean up or address to move forward.

    Now, tell me the specific year during which you are going to win the Super Bowl.

  7. Not a very apt analogy, I don't think. But, since you brought it up, let's say you are the owner of the team and you have this new coach. You have acceded to his requirements, which he says will turn the team around. You have dumped the players that do not fit his coaching style, you have traded for the experienced players he says will provide the "depth" needed, and you have hired the assistants and assorted coaches for special teams, defense, and so on. The team shows a record of 4 and 12 the first year and looks to go 5 and 11, at best, in the second. Do you keep him on or start looking for a new coach?

    I suggest you look in the stands (political polls).

  8. Douglas:

    Not a very apt analogy, eh? In both instances, someone inherited an entity, had the opportunity to make changes and put their imprint on it, have some cooperative and some not so cooperative participants and players in the entity, have forces outside of the entity affecting their chance of success, have financial / economics issues with which to deal, and have good and bad luck factors affecting the performance and the mood / mindset of the entity, etc.

    The team is a far, far, smaller entity to try to manage and it is still difficult to guarantee a particular result or performance. If it were simply a matter of putting the team in the hands of an owner who made all of the right decisions, and who could show a clear cause and effect relationship associated with certain decisions, then we would have a computer coach the team.

    From a policy perspective, we're not sure that we like or even support any of the actions taken by the current administration. However, we also know that we are not smart or bright enough, or prognosticators enough, to be able to say that they will not work.

    We don't think that anyone knows.

    Additionally, we think that the ability of the United States to control its own destiny has been significantly altered with the globalization of "things." and technology transfer revolutionary in nature.

  9. An article recently appeared in the electronic version of Time Magazine entitled, Whatever Happened to Obama's Army? It's an interesting read.

  10. Inspector, globalization began long before Obama became president. It had been "in place" long before he became politically active. It has been increasing in complexity exponentially since the late 70's. It should not have come as any surprise to this administration. Likewise, if you blame globalization of the economy for the difficulty of predicting the outcome of economic policies today then you must also excuse the previous administration's efforts to to contain the meltdown or prevent it. In other words, if that is an "out" for this administration's ineffectiveness then it is an "out" for several previous administrations. I have observed something that might be important... It seems that economists are always "surprised" or "puzzled" by the actual results of policies. When it is really bad, they are "troubled" by the outcomes. This suggests that we are trusting the wrong economists. Or, perhaps, we should not trust any economists at all. They are, after all, working by theory. That is, they believe something will work as planned but they do not know it.

    Still, if we examine the previous administration's real record, we will find that they inherited a mild recession (as do most new administrations), got through it, faced a major potential recession as a result of the 9/11 attacks and avoided it, engaged in two wars while still maintaining a vibrant economy. At the end of 2007, the unemployment rate was just over 5%. I see no valid reason to blame the previous administration for the problems of today. We can, however, blame the current administration for not handling the current crisis adequately. That is, if we are to be objective and reasonable. If we separate our emotional stake in this president from the facts.

    Obama made promises and offered solutions, the promises have not been kept and the solutions have not worked as conceived. People are disappointed and they are showing that disappointment.

  11. Douglas:

    You frequently referred, in your last comment, to "you" meaning us, as if "we" criticized the second Bush administration extensively in "our" blog. Although we question that assessment of our prior statements, IF in fact we did, please accept our apologies. It was not our intention.

    In fact, it is "our" general intention to make "our" positions applicable to all actors, not just actors on one side of the aisle or fence, or even walking down the middle.

    We are reasonably certain that, although there have been good times and bad in the interim, this current situation started probably 50 years ago, and has been exacerbated by the policies of our leaders over the past 25 - 35 years.

    It is interesting that you should bring this up. You may or may not recall that we posted the following comment (somewhat revised) after you mentioned that Christopher Hitchens' assessment that the Glenn Beck phenomenon was after white fear that they were transitioning from the majority to the minority:

    "What's more interesting from our perspective about this Glenn Beck phenomenon is that "The Folks in Control," however one might characterize them in terms of race, status, class, wealth, geographic location or whatever, allowed our current situation to develop over arguably the last 50 - 100 years, and now there are complaints by a vocal group of concerned citizens.

    "Is it possible, as postulated by some, that the liberal, conservative, progressive, corporate and banking interests, and libertarian POWER FORCES in our society are laughing all the way to the bank, and that we minions with little money and power (the members of the Institute for Applied Common Sense included) are the ones complaining? And that because of new technological advances in communication and the power of the Internet, the voice of the minions is now being disseminated with greater force, essentially saying, "Stop! Enough is enough!"?

    "Furthermore, is this a case of the minions fighting for limited scraps at the bottom of the heap, while the real riches are controlled by a few? Have we at the bottom been pitted against one another?

    "Is this arguably a populist movement somewhat similar to the one led by "the Great Commoner," William Jennings Bryan at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries?

    "Is what we are experiencing simply the most vocal expression of the perhaps 80% of we citizens at the bottom of the heap?"

    In about one hour, at 10:00 pm E, Maria Bartiromo of CNC will interview Arianna Huffington concerning her new book, "Third World America; How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream."

    Although we have not seen the program, it sounds as if you will sound the note that we expressed above. She lays the blame at the feet of corporations. We HOPE that she lays the blame at the feet of our leaders from BOTH parties who have led us down this path.

    But then again, someone once said that a nation deserves the leaders that it gets.

  12. Blog surfing...) Thank you for writing this blog! I look forward to reading more of your posts and catching up... in the last quarter of this 2 day "Super Storm" the New England media/ news has called it..

  13. Thank you Rebecca for paying us a visit. All we desire is that our readers walk away from the site saying to themselves, "Hmm, I hadn't looked at it that way."

  14. Thank you Rebecca for paying us a visit. All we desire is that our readers walk away from the site saying to themselves, "Hmm, I hadn't looked at it that way."


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