How is it possible that Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney on who can better handle the economy when it has been in decline all year?
Economists on both sides say this is one of the weakest recoveries since the Great Depression. New York Times economic columnist Paul Krugman, one of President Obama's early supporters, said, "This is still a terrible economy."
The overall economy barely grew by 1.7 percent in the second quarter, down from 2.0 percent in the first three months of 2012. Business economists have lowered their forecasts to 1.5 percent or lower for the year. The Federal Reserve Board says it will keep its interest rates near zero for the foreseeable future because they expect the economy to remain in a weakened condition for several years to come.
Most Americans do not follow the economic data that diagnose the economy's ups and downs. They know what their economic circumstances are. Yet political pollsters and reporters doing voter canvassing tell of interviews with people who say they have been out of work for months still say they are voting for Mr. Obama.
Most get their economic news from the nightly network shows, but the people who produce these programs bend over backward to report as little as possible about the levels of economic deprivation that characterize Mr. Obama's presidency.
Did you see the story on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams last week about how unemployment rose in more than half the states in August? Of course not, because he didn't report it.
Nevertheless, in the fourth insufferable year of Mr. Obama's term in office, the unemployment rate climbed in 26 states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Five were battleground states that probably will decide this election and where Mr. Obama, improbably, is leading Mr. Romney.
Unemployment was unchanged in the battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia and in Florida, where the jobless rate nears 9 percent.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the number of working Americans shrank last month as payrolls fell in 21 states, the result of tens of millions of discouraged workers who have stopped looking for a job and are no longer counted.
Yet there was Mr. Obama still telling CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday that the economy was moving in the right direction. "We're moving forward," he repeatedly says on the campaign trail. But by virtually every major economic measurement, we have been falling backward over the past four years, not moving forward.
For example, did you see the story on the nightly news about how median income has fallen from 2010 to 2011? You didn't because it wasn't reported. The U.S. Census Bureau reported on Sept. 12 that real median household income last year was $50,054, "a 1.5 percent decline from the 2010 median and the second consecutive annual drop."
The data-gathering agency also reported that median family household income declined by 1.7 percent in real terms last year, and that median household income was 8.1 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the economy fell into a deep recession. Moreover, it further reported that the nation's official poverty rate was a record 15 percent in 2011, with 46.2 million people in poverty.
This doesn't sound like our economy is moving forward, as the president insists in his campaign speeches and his TV ads. It sounds like we're moving backward.
Poverty is growing, incomes are falling, the economy's growth is slowing to a snail's pace, joblessness is climbing in more than half the country and the president is talking to us in Orwellian doublespeak. Or, as George Orwell defined this type of communication in his classic novel, "Nineteen Eighty-Four," doublethink:
"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while take account of the reality which one denies."
Thus, Mr. Obama conveniently puts objective reality out of his mind, even when it is reported by his administration. In his mind, backward becomes forward, weakness becomes getting stronger, decline becomes "moving in the right direction." Just as in Orwell's world, millions are ready to believe dishonest doublespeak that would make a carnival barker blush.
But before this can happen, a majority of the electorate has to completely forget what it was like before Mr. Obama. A few examples:
The average national unemployment rate in the previous administration was 5.2 percent. The average in Mr. Obama's presidency is 9 percent.
The budget deficit totaled $1.18 trillion over the last four years of George W. Bush's presidency. Mr. Obama's four deficits have added $5 trillion to the national debt.
When Mr. Obama was sworn into office on Inauguration Day 2009, regular gas was selling for about $1.90 a gallon. Today, under Mr. Obama's energy policies, it is approaching $4 a gallon.
Mr. Obama says that "we're making progress." This is the "new normal." We're moving forward, not backward.
Just what kind of Orwellian compass is he using?
In his "60 Minutes" interview, Mr. Obama kept falling back on his excuse that he "inherited" an economy that was in a deep recession.
Ronald Reagan inherited a deeper one where the unemployment rose to 10.8 percent. Four years later, when he ran for re-election, the economy was expanding at 6.3 percent, the jobless rate was about 7 percent and he won re-election by 49 states to 1.
Mr. Obama lamely insists things would be better but for the House Republicans. But Reagan faced a Democrat-controlled House and it gave him the across-the-board tax cuts that got our economy moving again.
As Mr. Romney repeatedly says, "This is the best Obama can do, but it's not the best America can do."
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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