In the twilight of his second term, President Barack Obama is lamenting his failure to sell his success in putting the American economy back on track after the 2008 crash suggesting the Democrats might have retained its majorities in the US Congress had he told the story better.
In an interview with the New York Times, Mr Obama also voiced his frustration that Republicans on Capitol Hill had blocked his attempts to initiate a giant spending effort to address America’s crumbling transport infrastructure. Had that programme gone forward, he suggested, economic growth in the US might have been “growing a percentage or two faster each year.”
That, in turn, would have provided leeway for other improvements on the economic scene. “I can probably tick off three or four common-sense things we could have done where we’d be growing a percentage or two faster each year,” he said. “We could have brought down the unemployment rate lower, faster. We could have been lifting wages even faster than we did.”
Mr Obama’s expressions of regret came on the same day that new figures showed that the US economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year, a sickly figure that will embolden critics of Mr Obama on the presidential campaign trail. Donald Trump consistently portrays the US as a land on the brink of a fresh economic meltdown. Even Hillary Clinton, the Democrat frontrunner, emphasises the shortcomings of a recovery that has not filtered far down the chain.
The interview, with the paper’s Sunday Magazine, was part an exercise in patting himself on his own back for lifting the US out of the economic morass he inherited from President George W. Bush and part remorse.
“I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” he said of the early days of his presidency. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.”
That he did not explain those achievements better - and the political consequences - was one mea culpa in the interview. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he told the interviewer, Andrew Ross Sorkin, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
While not quite making excuses, Mr Obama suggests that his failure better to communicate was in part due to being overwhelmed at the time. “We were moving so fast early on that we couldn’t take victory laps. We couldn’t explain everything we were doing. I mean, one day we’re saving the banks; the next day we’re saving the auto industry; the next day we’re trying to see whether we can have some impact on the housing market.”
Saying he was sometimes kept “up at night” because of his failure to do more to fuel the recovery, Mr Obama focused especially on the missed opportunity of “a massive infrastructure project”, noting that 2012-2014, “was the perfect time to do it; low interest rates, construction industry is still on its heels, massive need - the fact that we failed to do that, for example, cost us time…It meant that there were folks who we could have helped and put back to work and entire communities that could have prospered that ended up taking a lot longer to recover.”
He was unable to resist slapping the Republican candidates vying to succeed him for presenting economic policy platforms that he called “fantasy”. “If you look at the platforms, the economic platforms of the current Republican candidates for president, they don’t simply defy logic and any known economic theories, they are fantasy,” the President said.
He critiqued the Republicans for promises that envisioned, “slashing taxes particularly for those at the very top, dismantling regulatory regimes that protect our air and our environment and then projecting that this is going to lead to 5 percent or 7 percent growth, and claiming that they’ll do all this while balancing the budget.” He went on: “Nobody would even, with the most rudimentary knowledge of economics, think that any of those things are plausible.”
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