Lewis W. Diuguid: With poor economy, Obama needs a Hail Mary pass to survive
My 95-year-old dad interrogates me in the colder months of every year about two small, bullet-shaped devices on the front end of my car.
They are high-pitched whistles called "deer alerts" made to keep deer from jumping in front of passing cars on area highways. They come in handy starting in the fall during deer mating season.
"How do you know they work?" Dad always asks.
I say because I've not crashed into a deer yet. As a chemist seeking conclusive evidence, Dad always counters, saying that's bad logic.
He's right. But the non-evidence is the best I have for safety's sake on my frequent trips to see him in St. Louis.
Unfortunately a similar, non-evidence logic is what President Barack Obama faces with voters about the economy as he seeks a second term in the White House. He tried to convince listeners in his State of the Union address last week that his stimulus plan and other efforts have created or saved millions of jobs and driven down the unemployment rate.
Despite Obama's pronouncements, the housing crisis continues with more foreclosures separating families from their homes. Consumer spending and confidence haven't rebounded, and home sales haven't recovered.
The much-promised green energy revolution has yet to take hold. Obama can't completely blame the stagnation on George W. Bush's eight years in the White House.
Obama also can't take credit for a turnaround. He has tried to contend that without his administration the nation would be worse off and millions more jobs would have vanished.
But that's my deer whistle logic. Without captured-on-cellphone-camera proof, it's pooh-poohed by voters like my dad ribs me.
Obama, indeed, has bought this bad economy on a three-year layaway plan. It has been up to him to either get the country on the right financial track or be tied to the rails as the locomotive of voter discontent roars through on the November election schedule.
Dad has insisted since the Great Depression that people always vote with their wallet. Without a turnaround, Obama will be a one-term president.
Americans are exhausted with being afraid and uncertain about their economic future. Sure, a lot of folks had a good time spending during the Christmas holiday season.
But like binge drinkers, the bill-paying hangover is hitting us and our recovery with promises to stay sober continue until tax-refund-check time. That's for people with jobs.
Those fortunate enough to still be working also have had to absorb more of their health care costs. They've seen their work hours cut, endured pay freezes and weeks of furloughs, yielding smaller paychecks.
Add to that baby boomers' adult children living at home because they're unemployed or underemployed and can't afford to live on their own or parents are sending their adult children money to augment the young adults' meager income. What little wealth the middle and working class have is being strip-mined away, and people have few incentives to save for the future.
Happy days keep running farther down a dark, endless rat hole. It's like a bad horror movie that won't end.
The U.S. housing bubble that contributed to the global recession threatens to boomerang back and wallop our economy with the euro's crisis because of the massive debt many European nations are carrying. The interconnectedness of the world's economy is showing itself, making everyone except the very rich feel vulnerable.
It is why the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn't lost traction. People are angry and afraid, and they are shouting those emotions from sidewalks and parks in major cities throughout America.
It is the same cry that Franklin D. Roosevelt heard in Hooverville shantytowns of people nationwide left homeless during the Great Depression. Roosevelt answered people's calls with New Deal programs.
They didn't revive the economy of the 1930s, but they did give people a sense of hope and a feeling that things would get better. Obama made hope and change themes of his candidacy in 2008. But each is like deer whistles to human ears now.
The weakness of the Republican candidates may not be enough to help Obama. He needs a Hail Mary pass to stay in the White House. The questions are, what will it be and when might it arrive?
Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star's Editorial Board. Email him at Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.
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