David Plouffe, Still Believe People Are Feeling Better about Economy?

David Plouffe was at yesterday’s disappointing “Freedom Rally” at Johnson Controls. Aside from being amazed (as I often am when I see politicos in person) at how short he is, seeing him also made me newly cranky about Plouffe’s comments last month about people feeling better about their own economic situations.

The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers.

In fact, those terms very rarely pass their lips. So it’s a very one-dimensional view. They view the economy through their own personal prism. You see, people’s — people’s attitude towards their own personal financial situation has actually improved over time. You know, they’re still concerned about the long-term economic future of the country, but it’s things like “My sister was unemployed for six months and was living in my basement and now she has a job.”

There’s a — a “help wanted” sign. You know, the local diner was a little busier this week. Home Depot was a little busier. These are the ways people talk about the economy. [my emphasis]

As I pointed out then, people actually weren’t feeling better about the economy, which seemed like a point you ought to be cognizant of if you’re trying to get a President re-elected based on improving consumer confidence.

Particularly when consumer confidence is at Jimmy Carter levels of malaise.

Confidence among U.S. consumers plunged in August to the lowest level since May 1980, adding to concern that weak employment gains and volatility in the stock market will prompt households to retrench.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment slumped to 54.9 from 63.7 the prior month. The gauge was projected to decline to 62, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.

The biggest one-week slump in stocks since 2008 and the threat of default on the nation’s debt may have exacerbated consumers’ concerns as unemployment hovers above 9 percent and companies are hesitant to hire. Rising pessimism poses a risk household spending will cool further, hindering a recovery that Federal Reserve policy makers said this week was already advancing “considerably slower” than projected.

“The mood is very depressed,” said Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. “Consumers are very fatigued and very uncertain. In the short term, people are going to pull back on spending.”

Of course, when the President’s team decides that, rather than go and point out that the government can and has done something about jobs (and proposes to do more), it should blame Congress and pretend that freedom creates jobs all by itself, it doesn’t really inspire confidence.

As Paul Krugman says, what we need is someone to go out and staunch the bleeding, not someone to lecture more about getting the deficit in order (as Obama also did yesterday).

For the fact is that right now the economy desperately needs a short-run fix. When you’re bleeding profusely from an open wound, you want a doctor who binds that wound up, not a doctor who lectures you on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you get older. When millions of willing and able workers are unemployed, and economic potential is going to waste to the tune of almost $1 trillion a year, you want policy makers who work on a fast recovery, not people who lecture you on the need for long-run fiscal sustainability.


What would a real response to our problems involve? First of all, it would involve more, not less, government spending for the time being — with mass unemployment and incredibly low borrowing costs, we should be rebuilding our schools, our roads, our water systems and more. It would involve aggressive moves to reduce household debt via mortgage forgiveness and refinancing. And it would involve an all-out effort by the Federal Reserve to get the economy moving, with the deliberate goal of generating higher inflation to help alleviate debt problems.

Mind you, just from watching last night’s debate via Twitter, I recognize that most of the alternatives would be far, far worse. But to prevent one of those yahoos from having a change, the Obama Administration really ought to be looking at what works–investing in factories like JCI–rather than lecturing more about deficits and freedom.

16 replies
  1. rosalind says:

    thx, ew. i’m disgusted with the administration continually reducing our lives to feelings over facts, ensuring the discussion remains one step removed from our reality.

    the Masters of our Universe pick our pockets to bail out their bad deals then sit fat-assed atop record pots of cash while shipping our jobs off-shore amid bleated cries of “shared sacrifice”, the moral rot of our ruling class laid bare in two words.

    The American people have done nothing else but sacrifice since our Political Elites lost their collective shit in the wake of 9/11 and set the country on a course few could have imagined except in a fever dream.

    Hey President Obama, get your head out of the fluffy clouds of feeling and start dealing with the cold, hard facts on the ground: catastrophic unemployment, unregulated greed, and a stalled economy that can’t begin to get back into first gear until the true cause of the housing melt-down is addressed and unwound and stem the states revenue free-falls.

  2. matthew carmody says:

    He’s right. The average AMerican doesn’t view the economy through the prism of GDP. S/he views it through the number of people in the same community who seem to be doing so much better than her. The fact that restaurants are full to capacity on the south shore of Long Island and people are still driving around in SUVs only now they’re Escalades and more Range Rovers has a friend of mine completely at a loss for how to view the economy.
    She’s a hard-working woman of 60 with no pension, no healthcare if she loses her job, just trying to hang on until she hits 62 so she can start to collect Social Security. This is the person who’s gonna be hurt by chained-CPI calculations for Social Security COLA payments in the future. Right now she makes over $100,000 a year with no one to support, owns her home, and is in pretty good health. But she’s terrified of losing her job because of the healthcare issue.

    And when we talk about what’s going on economically she cannot get a grasp on the fact that this country is in the shitter because she gauges her opinion on how full the restaurants around her seem to be and how full the parking lots at the malls are. One of the reasons I believe that’s the case is because this is New York we’re talking about. Stockbrokers and floor-traders live here; insurance executives, bank executives; people who work in high-paying jobs on Wall Street, Broadway, research universities, hospitals.

    Not to mention the underground economy that exists on cash. The business owners who skim and creatively write-off family outings as expenses; the guy who employs six Hispanic workers to cut people’s grass and shrubs and has absolutely no overhead eating into his profits.

    It’s a grand illusion, as Styx sang.

  3. John B. says:

    Yahoos is right, but even so, I cannot and willnot support Obama. For all the reasons everybody already knows…

  4. emptywheel says:

    @matthew carmody: Right. Plouffe is right that people take their measure of the economy by how people around them are dong. But he claims that measure is going up and it is objectively at lower levels than it has been since Reagan used that kind of malaise to get elected.

    He’s right about how people measure economy, but dead wrong (or lying) about what they think of it.

  5. Cregan says:

    From the beginning of your post, I was beginning to think you have jumped ship to the Tea Party.

    I think you have a lot in common with the Tea Party, but looking for very different methods and policies.

    At least Plouffe is slightly better than Axelrod–a clown who forgot to apply his makeup.

  6. BeccaM says:

    These are the same ones who insist the only way to fix the situation is with both spending and tax cuts.

    Meanwhile the “moderate” (ha!) position is slightly less on the spending cuts (but cuts nonetheless) and maybe a few small tax increases.

    Rubbish. The short- and long-term solution is to raise taxes AT LEAST back to the Clinton levels, and then spend more, right now, to get the economy back on its feet. Infrastructure, research, education, and direct help for families hit hard by unemployment and the foreclosure scandal.

    Economies don’t grow under austerity; they stagnate, at best, and collapse, in the worst case scenario.

  7. Cregan says:


    You cannot expect someone in the job of Plouffe to actually say the truth.

    Come to think about it, what an interesting job, to be paid to say things you know aren’t true.

    I know there are lawyers on the blog, and I think it is vitally important to have someone vigorously presenting a defendent’s side of a case, even if the lawyer suspects it isn’t true, or might not be.

    However, I think that mentality goes too far when applied to government officials and the policies they promote. But, I think that habit of “zealous” defense, appropriate in a court room, is not great in the public square.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “They” hate us for our freedoms, dontchyaknow, including the freeeeedom to “create” jobs. Except Mr. Obama and his corporate sponsors would rather we not focus on corporations’ lemming-like unwillingness to create jobs in the US without government subsidies, and even then below the radar. Mr. Obama’s failure to take credit – personally, on behalf of his party and of government in general – for creating jobs in the US is like a working class Tea Partier’s adoration of GOP economic policies that drive her job to China. The “good feelingness” of being on the right is so at odds with personal survival that some form of political psychosis comes to mind as a rational explanation for the disconnect.

    Mr. Obama won’t take credit for creating scarce, quality jobs in the US. Why? Because that’s not what government does, or at least it’s not what it should do, as pure and foolish an ideological principle as this supposedly “pragmatic” politician has ever stood by. He doesn’t want to encourage real voters into a Dickensian request for “Please, sir, may I have more?” He doesn’t want to be on the hook because he knows that without government subsidies, US “job creators” will create jobs only elsewhere. And his corporate supporters don’t want real Americans – as opposed to corporate people impersonators – to have that pointed out to them, lest they use their votes, their feet, and their pocketbooks to do something about it.

  9. rg says:

    “…dead wrong (or lying)…” Ah that is the question. What I get is the notion that a salesman’s job is to say whatever he wants the prospect to believe. Thus we have “morning in America”, “our long national nightmare is over”, “light at the end of the tunnel”, “they hate us for our freedoms”, and I guess as a Mr McCauber said,”things are looking up”.

  10. Gitcheegumee says:

    cregan @ #8

    Excuse me, but how does David Plouffe know how the average American views the economy?

    How many average Americans does he even know-or have daily associations -to begin with?

    Sounds to me like so much Luntzian speak,or Edelman PR advice,ergo:

    Edelman is the largest independently owned PR company with 46 offices and 50 affiliates around the world. [1]

    According to a marketing executive, an Edelman executive providing media training to his firm said: [2]
    Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is ok. How many times have you heard a CEO stand up and say “No, I’m not leaving the company” and then – days later – he’s gone. Reporters understand that you “had” to do it and they won’t hold it against you in your next job when you deal with them again.(Sourcewatch)

    NOTE: The Murdoch machine hired Edelman to provide soothing unguent to the “recent unpleasantness” in the UK.

  11. rg says:

    Exactly. Remember how the CEO at Enron, Lay, was telling his employees how good a bargain their stock was for investing at the time when he was cashing out. Articulate the view you want your audience to accept.

  12. P J Evans says:

    @matthew carmody:

    The fact that restaurants are full to capacity on the south shore of Long Island and people are still driving around in SUVs only now they’re Escalades and more Range Rovers has a friend of mine completely at a loss for how to view the economy.

    I figure they’re either up to their ears in debt or work in one of the financial fields.
    Certainly all the people I know who can afford expensive vehicles (and eating in fine restaurants) work for banking and investment companies – and I know at least one of them nearly lost his job a year or so back, when the MOTUs didn’t want to bail his place out. He’s bought a new Mercedes (I heard lots of whining because it didn’t show up fast enough to suit him).

  13. Cregan says:


    I am talking the truth about the economy, which I am sure he knows.

    No high up politician rubs elbows with your average Joe or Jane. So yeah, he wouldn’t know that.

    It’s all a song and dance anyway. And, whether it is PR or political consulting, I think it all stems from lawyering outside the court world. Saying whatever you can to make your side look good. Perfectly fine in a court room, not so fine in normal life.

    In real life, we hope we are not playing games or having contests. In government, we ought to be trying to solve problems. Any chatter purposely skewed in one direction when you know better increases the difficulty of solving anything.

    They should do a Liar, Liar movie with a politician if they want real comedy.

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