At the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago, President Obama told the country that the economy he inherited was not something that could be fixed in four years. Rather, he said, it will take him a second term to fully realize the fruits of his policies and experience a robust economic recovery. Considering how unsuccessful his previous attempts at predicting the economic recovery have been, it's doubtful that even Mr. Obama believes this claim.
Mr. Obama first tried his hand at predicting the recovery soon after his inauguration, when he famously told Matt Lauer, "If I don't have [the economic recovery] done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition." In case that statement didn't inspire enough hope in the American public, Mr. Obama also released a chart projecting the impact his stimulus program would have on the unemployment rate. According to that chart, current unemployment should be around 5 percent instead of the 8.1 percent it actually is.
Mr. Obama's economic team now concedes that those projections were indeed too optimistic, but none of this is the team's fault. You see, Mr. Obama was basing his charts and statements on the best economic data available at the time. The administration explains that had it known then how bad the recession actually was, the president never would have made such statements or produced those charts. Which is to say that it is unfair to hold the president accountable for his failed predictions and promises.
Indeed, Harvard professor Niall Ferguson learned this lesson the hard way. After referencing Mr. Obama's stimulus chart in his recent Newsweek cover story, Mr. Ferguson was accused of pushing "propaganda" by his "old and good friend" Andrew Sullivan.
Even if Mr. Obama truly deserves a pass for his failed predictions based on faulty economic data, he still would have to explain why he kept doubling and tripling down on his optimistic economic predictions, even after it became obvious that his initial forecasts had no grounding in reality. Only a few months after Mr. Obama released his chart predicting the effects of the stimulus, unemployment already had climbed over 9 percent, yet Mr. Obama kept insisting on an impending "summer of recovery." When that prediction proved incorrect, he took another stab at economic forecasting and, without the least bit of embarrassment, predicted that the next summer would be the real summer of recovery. If nothing else, all those incorrect forecasts demonstrate Mr. Obama's cavalier attitude toward tossing out predictions to the American public.
What's more, Mr. Obama's rosy predictions have not been limited to economic forecasting. In a 2008 campaign speech, Mr. Obama told the crowd he would lower the oceans and heal the planet. In his defense, Mr. Obama did qualify his promise by saying it would only happen if Americans "believe" in it enough. Oh well, I guess it's our fault, then.
At the recent GOP convention, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke about Mr. Obama's 2008 visit to a now-closed GM plant in Janesville, Wis., where Mr. Obama told workers government support would keep the plant open for another 100 years. The media quickly noted how Mr. Obama shouldn't be blamed for the plant's closing because it occurred only a few months after Mr. Obama made that promise, which was before he even took office. In other words, the media think Mr. Obama deserves a pass for telling workers of a plant on the brink of insolvency that the plant likely would be around for another 100 years.
As a skilled politician, Mr. Obama is keenly aware that making predictions has both costs and benefits. The voting public loves clear and unequivocal predictions. The more specific, the better. It's the political version of "putting your money where your mouth is." People notice when a politician is so confident that he'll throw caution to the wind and attempt to predict the future. When Mr. Obama bet his presidency on the economy being fixed in three years, he was doing exactly that. By putting those projections onto a clear, easy-to-understand chart, he was doubling down.
Now that Mr. Obama's predictions on the economy have proved incorrect, it's disingenuous for all his defenders to turn around and say, "But the numbers were revised." The numbers almost always get revised. This is something the Obama economic team should have taken into account before going hog-wild with its optimistic economic forecasting. If you go out on a limb, it just may break.
After spending his entire first term promising us that the recovery is right around the corner, Mr. Obama is telling us that he deserves a second term -- because the recovery is right around the corner.
Perhaps, instead of focusing on scoring political points through bold predictions and promises, Mr. Obama and his economic advisers would have been better served considering contingency plans for less optimistic economic scenarios. Now, all they have left are excuses.
Mendy Finkel is a corporate attorney practicing in New York.