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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why Obama Won't Get the FDR Pass

Bernie Goldberg has a theory about President Obama and the way he will be treated by not only the media but by the public at large. Here is how he explained it.

No, he is, like, FDR — did you know that FDR was elected to a third term even though unemployment never went below 10 percent during his first two terms and for almost two years never went below 20 percent? Why do you think that is? Because, he mesmerized the nation. And Barack Obama is mesmerizing the nation. And he's got a compliant press to boot.

Wherever Goldberg is on television you will hear this thesis. The thesis goes like this. FDR's economic policies never really worked. The unemployment never fell below ten percent and for more than 20 months it was above 20%, and yet he got elected to a third term despite eight years of economic failure.

The reason that this happened was that, first, FDR made Americans feel good about themselves. Second, FDR had his predecessor to blame for any ills. Third, he had a compliant press. I don't have to point out the similarities between the two.

This is a sound theory on one level, however it is a theory that overlooks several differences between the two. For this reason, President Obama will NOT get a pass if the economy continues to fail the way it did under FDR.

The main difference is that FDR inherited an economy that already had near 25% unemployment. President Obama inherited an economy with 7.5% unemployment. While the economy never really recovered in eight years under FDR it also never got any worse than when he inherited it. If we see unemployment get into double digits or even worse into the teens, the dynamic facing President Obama will not be the same as the dynamic that faced FDR. This economy will get worse before it gets better. If it doesn't get better, that is something that the voters will hold President Obama for.

The second difference is the twenty four hour news cycle and the fragmented news media. The media was much easier to control when it was merely the networks and the msm. Now, we have the blogosphere, the new media, cable news, and talk radio along with the traditional media. Such a fragmented media environment means that no one person can control the message. Furthermore, the twenty four hour news cycle means a hyperanalysis of each and every policy. FDR's policies caused all sorts of corruption. The media simply didn't have enough resources to examine it intensely. It does now.

Finally, a lot more people are invested in the stock market than they were during the 1930's. 401k's and other retirment plans were minuscle or not even created. Now, more than half the population owns stocks in one way or another. FDR presided over a stagnant stock market his entire presidency, but that wasn't an issue then. That's because only the super wealthy owned stocks then. Not so anymore. If the stock market continues to perform as it has so far under his presidency, that is something a lot of people will notice.

So, while Obama and FDR have plenty of similarities. Those similarities lend themselves to excuse Obama from economic failure. Never fear conservatives. There are also very important differences and those differences mean that Obama will not have electoral excuses for economic failures the way that FDR did.

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