By Simon Johnson
David Axelrod was on the Diane Rehm show this morning – a great opportunity to connect with listeners who will actually stop what they are doing and pay attention, at least for a short while. He was awful.
He had even the most basic facts wrong – it’s not “8 million people have lost their jobs” but rather “more than 8 million jobs have been lost” since December 2007. He rambled – it was hard to see his point, particularly in the introduction. But most of all, there was no narrative – why exactly did we have a recession, why has it been so bad, and why aren’t the jobs coming back?
Without a narrative, how can anyone make sense of the past 18 months?
Axelrod can choose his narrative – and obviously doesn’t need to agree, for example, with the view that the financial system became dangerous and now needs to be reined in – but he has to say something coherent. You can’t just make isolated points like “the fiscal stimulus helped” or (even more confusing) “we’ll now address the budget deficit.”
There was really no explanation for why the economy has become such a difficult place for so many people. How did we go from apparent prosperity in 2007 to the deepest recession of the past 50 years? And how are we going to get the jobs back?
Blaming things on the Republicans in some vague sense (e.g., tax cuts) also doesn’t make sense to people. If you want to get partisan, you have to connect the dots in a convincing manner – otherwise people will (rightly) tune out.
Does the problem here lie with the economic briefing that Axelrod received before going on air? If so, changing those responsible would be an obvious first step.
But the issue may be deeper – or higher up the administration. It is entirely possible, based on what we are seeing and hearing now, that even Axelrod and other members of the political wing of the White House don’t really understand what happened (the big banks blew themselves up) – and why they are now so powerless to do anything about it (after being rescued, the banks fought hard to block effective change). The credit system remains fundamentally damaged and unfixed; this undermines expectations for the future in many ways and slows the recovery of jobs.