Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Despite "boos," Obama re-inspires the faithful in Boston

To Fenway-trained ears, it sounded mostly like “Yooouuk,” the guttural chorus that traditionally broke out when ever longtime Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis stepped up to the plate. But President Obama clearly believed he triggered another traditional sound, after he thanked Boston for trading Youkilis to his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox.

“I didn’t think I’d get any boos out of here, but I guess I shouldn’t have — I should not have brought up baseball,” Obama said to supporters who filled Boston Symphony Hall on Monday night. “My mistake, my mistake. You’ve got to know your crowd.”

Politics and sports are a treacherous mix. Boston baseball fans booed John Kerry when he threw out the first pitch before the start of a Sox-Yankees game that preceded the 2004 convention that selected the senator from Massachusetts as its nominee. But the pro-Obama crowd that filled Symphony Hall quickly settled any confusion over their response to the president’s words.

“We still love you,” a woman’s voice rang out, bringing the warm ovation that is more common in Obama-crazy Massachusetts.

About 1,800 Obama supporters paid $250 to $10,000 to fill the balconies and sit around small, Pops-style circular tables on the floor. In return, they heard a campaign speech aimed at re-inspiring the faithful by reminding them of the shared vision of 2008, the “compact that binds us together as a people.”

Four years later, it is striking to realize just how hard Obama must work to reconstruct the shared vision that catapulted him to the White House: the “basic bargain” that a country bought into so passionately in 2008.

Now, the narrative is complicated by Obama’s version of the challenges he confronted once elected: “surpluses turned into deficits… two wars fought on credit cards… the worst financial crisis of our lifetime.” Now, he has to spend time quietly stitching together the story of what he tried to do, and who tried to stop him, before he can thunder the phrases that bring supporters to their feet. Now, he has to argue “there is nothing radical” about his vision, and insist that he does not believe government is the answer to all problems. Now, to arouse passion in listeners, he must divide up the electorate around specific causes. They include women’s right “to control their own health choices”; the right of gays not to be “kicked out of the military”; and the desire of illegal immigrants to one day attain citizenship.

“How do we reclaim that basic bargain? How do we do it?” he asked the faithful. Obama calls the answer “the defining issue of our time,” and he’s right. His challenge in 2012 is that there are two dramatically different visions of what it takes to re-ignite confidence in the country. And confidence is key to achieving the shared goal of turning the economy around for all citizens.

Even in Boston, Obama may not have had everyone at hello. But by the end of this speech, he reminded this gathering why they see it his way.

“It was a quiet conversation about what’s at stake,” said Boston City Councilor Michael P. Ross. “He brought the crowd to his side.”

Then again, it was Boston. If he can’t do it there, he can’t do it anywhere.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Obama's Economists Say U.S. Household Wealth Recovering

The White House, in a rebuttal to a Federal Reserve study, said the “entire decline” of almost 39 percent in household wealth reported by the central bank occurred before President Barack Obama took office and that much of the wealth has returned. 

“The numbers are a tough and brutal snapshot of the financial crisis and housing bubble that President Obama inherited,” White House economists Gene Sperling and Jason Furman wrote in an official blog posted today. All of the decline in wealth occurred before Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, they said. 

The June 11 report, released five months before presidential and congressional elections, showed almost every demographic group experienced losses during the 2007-2010 period of study. The losses may hurt retirement prospects for middle- income families, who are the focus of Obama’s re-election effort.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has criticized Obama’s handling of the economy, including that the U.S. unemployment rate rose last month even as the Fed maintained record stimulus and after Obama’s $830 billion stimulus program. 

The U.S. economy grew more slowly in the first quarter than previously estimated, expanding at a 1.9 percent annual rate, down from a 2.2 percent prior estimate. Retail sales in the U.S. fell in May for a second month, the Commerce Department reported today, another sign the U.S. economy is cooling. 

The financial crisis wiped out 18 years of gains for the median U.S. household net worth, with a 38.8 percent plunge from 2007 to 2010 that was led by the collapse in home prices, the Federal Reserve study showed.

Wealth Rising

Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and Furman, its principal deputy director, said in the White House blog that wealth “has risen every year” since Obama came to office, though it hasn’t fully recovered. 

The economists said household wealth fell 24 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2009, when George W. Bush was president. They said Americans’ net worth grew by 15 percent between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2010. 

“Household wealth has risen every year President Obama has been in office, by a total of 23 percent overall,” Sperling and Furman wrote, citing gains the in value of mutual funds, increasing bank deposits and gains in stock values, aided by stabilizing home values. 

Even so, they said, “These data show that wealth still has not fully recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression and reinforces how much more work we have to do.”