Articles

Our Disconnected Commander In Chief

September 03, 2014

President Obama has recently shown that his understanding of the economy and world is very different from that of most Americans.

At his afternoon news conference last Thursday, for example, Mr. Obama hailed the report of 4.2% second-quarter economic growth. "Companies are investing," the president said. "Consumers are spending. Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have now created nearly 10 million new jobs. So there are reasons to feel good about the direction we're headed."

Except Americans don't. In the Aug. 4 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, only 22% said they thought the country is headed in the right direction while 71% said it is going in the wrong direction. Only 35% were very or somewhat satisfied with the economy while 64% were somewhat or very dissatisfied.

Then there was Mr. Obama's observation at a Democratic fundraiser in Purchase, N.Y., on Friday that "the world has always been messy," a startling assertion that what Americans are witnessing in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere is nothing out of the ordinary. They're not buying that either.

The Aug. 24 Pew Research Center/USA Today poll found that 65% thought they were living in "a more dangerous world" than they did "several years ago," while 27% said "things have not changed very much."

Why is there such a disconnect? Part of the reason is every president's tendency to emphasize the positive. Yet that's hardly all. In extemporaneous remarks at the fundraiser on Friday, the president offered three explanations for why what he sees is so different from the reality most Americans see.

Mr. Obama suggested people were "anxious" and experiencing "disquiet" because "although the economy as a whole has done well, there are still too many folks who have been left behind. Those of us at the very top have done very well." In other words, there has been enough economic growth but the rich have grabbed its fruits.

But perhaps Americans are anxious because growth in the first half of the year was just 1.1%. The labor participation rate is 63%, down from its prerecession average of roughly 66%, meaning that 10.3 million Americans who once worked can't get good jobs now and have dropped out of the workforce. There are now 7.5 million people desperate for full-time jobs who work part-time, due in part to ObamaCare. And median household income actually declined in a recovery.

Mr. Obama tried explaining away foreign-policy worries Friday night, saying "if you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart." Get it? Americans' anxiety is the media's fault. And not just newspaper and television. The president pointed to social media, saying it has made things worse by giving us "capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships people are going through."

Twitter didn't describe the Islamic State as an unprecedented terrorist threat: it was Mr. Obama's secretary of state, secretary of defense, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It isn't Facebook that has led more Americans to believe the administration lacks an effective strategy to destroy this barbaric terrorist group. It isn't Instagram that caused Americans to view Russia's invasion of Ukraine as dangerous and Mr. Obama's response as weak. On Aug. 24, 54% of respondents told Pew pollsters that they thought the president was not tough enough on foreign policy and national security, up from 38% when he first took office.

"The last reason that people are anxious," the president told Democratic donors on Friday, "is that Washington doesn't work." Yes, but Americans are aware that the president's conduct is a big reason why.

Last week, Senate Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill expressed frustration about Mr. Obama's lack of leadership. Meanwhile, assistant House Democratic leader James Clyburn and other congressional Democrats openly discussed their strategy to stir up racial animosity over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., to energize a larger African-American turnout to save iffy House and Senate Democratic seats in the midterms.

This is hardly inspiring stuff. If Washington is not working, voters tend to blame the man in charge. That is the president.

Mr. Obama was once thought to be in touch with the concerns of the American people. Those days are over. A great gulf now exists between the president and the citizenry—between how he perceives the economy and world and how they do. This disconnect could well cost his party this November. Whether it does, the policies crafted from Mr. Obama's worldview are already costing the country its full measure of prosperity and security.

A version of this article appeared September 4, 2014, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline Our Disconnected Commander In Chief and online at WSJ.com.

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