Labor Day has come and gone and with it the season for white linen suits and two-tone shoes. It’s the right time to ask: Where’s that “Recovery Summer” we were promised four years ago? The White House had proudly proclaimed that a six-week spending binge would revitalize the economy and put America back to work.
“Jobs, jobs, jobs” was the heady promise. Repairing highways, expanding national parks and “home weatherization” would spark a “surge” of growth and eliminate unemployment lines. As summer faded in 2010, everyone realized there was no recovery. Someone asked President Obama whether he regretted coining the term “Recovery Summer.”
Never one to dwell on his own mistakes, Mr. Obama said: “I don’t regret the notion that we are moving forward because of the steps that we’ve taken … . The evidence that we’ve seen during the course of this summer and over the course of the last 18 months indicates that we’re moving in the right direction. We just have to speed it up.”
Four years later, and we still haven’t “speeded it up.” We’re moving as slowly now as we were then. The latest employment figures show the percentage of Americans holding a job last month was as low as it was in the dark days of ‘77, when all Jimmy Carter could do for the economy was to blame his ineptitude on the “malaise” of others. Now “obamalaise” is worse. Sixteen-million workers have dropped out of the labor force. Black teenagers fare worst of all in Mr. Obama’s America, with a 34.9 percent unemployment rate.
The “mission accomplished” banners prepared for Recovery Summer parties were buried, unused, long ago. Recovery Summer was recognized as Bummer Summer instead. Mr. Obama avoids the dour speech of Mr. Carter, who reassured the nation that it was in a “recession” and not a “depression,” as though that made a difference to a man or woman desperate for work. Ronald Reagan defined a recession as “when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose yours, and a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” When one of Mr. Carter’s economic plans failed, he introduced another — five in his first and only term.
Mr. Obama hasn’t varied from the single plan of his administration. He’s still selling the same snake oil from the back of the wagon. He’ll keep insisting his plan is working, as though saying it will make it so.
Instead of learning from Mr. Carter’s rhetorical mistakes, Mr. Obama should have learned from what Ronald Reagan did right. The Reagan recovery was deep and strong, lasting more than a mere summer. It was built on a belief in American exceptionalism, that once small businesses and taxpayers are spared heavy taxation and overbearing regulation, they will invest in their future. The Gipper understood that everyone wants a chance at the American dream.
Standing below Lady Liberty in the record summer heat of Labor Day 1980, Mr. Reagan revealed the secret of his success. “Restoring the American dream requires more than restoring a sound, productive economy, vitally important as that is,” he said. “It requires a return to spiritual and moral values, values so deeply held by those who came here to build a new life. We need to restore those values in our daily life, in our neighborhoods and in our government’s dealings with the other nations of the world.”
So long as Mr. Obama attempts a fundamental transformation of America into something more like Europe, where distant, arrogant bureaucrats decide what’s best for the people, we’ll be waiting for that recovery.