April, 26th 2011

Two (more) datapoints elected officials should be paying attention to

– Liz Mair

There's been a lot of chatter recently about how various economic indicators should have President Obama running scared as he commences the 2012 re-election campaign. Unemployment remains higher than is generally viewed as tolerable.  The US is carrying a lot of debt, and S&P revised its outlook amid concerns that political gridlock will prevent our debt problem from being brought under control. The wage stagnation issue that some commentators focus on heavily appears persistent.  Gas prices are up again, at a level that has many drivers outraged.

But here are another two datapoints that I think should have all people in elected office, and not just President Obama, concerned: 1) Major food brands are raising their prices, meaning that buying the same stuff with the same crappy paycheck is going to cost average Americans more (note that this is also true of airlines, and rising food prices aren't really news in and of themselves), and 2) home prices seem to be experiencing a double-dip, something that in at least some cases is probably going to impact people's ability to borrow against their house value to fund costs associated with a more expensive, but not at all more luxurious, lifestyle.  

I say "all people in elected office," because yes, we do now have divided government and my sense is that most Americans are pretty well convinced that politicians from both parties just aren't getting done what they need to to improve the public's collective fortunes. Republicans want to believe this will be taken out on President Obama in 2012, but that's dependent not just on people continuing to be pissed off and frustrated over the state of the economy (by which I believe people often mean their personal financial circumstances). It's also dependent on Republicans having something credible to say that addresses these concerns, and a credible messenger or, rather, credible messengers to deliver them.  I'd add this is a mixed bag for Republicans; all too often what we tend to say sounds like the same old crap from the usual suspects (or people who look and sound like them) to a lot of people.  

It will be interesting to see whether a conservative economic message delivered by, say, Tim Pawlenty-- who wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth-- resonates better than what we hear from certain other presidential candidates (I think it will, and you can conjecture who specifically I mean).  

It will also be interesting to see whether things that aren't 100% conservative policy orthodoxy and tie in very much with ongoing financial/prestige-related concerns, and which may emanate from some candidates (or people purporting to be interested in becoming candidates), strike voters as new, interesting and believable.  Donald Trump is getting a lot of attention for his birtherist chat, for instance, but his proposal to slap tariffs on China has a lot of the pissed off folks who liked Ross Perot back in the day (or would have) intrigued.  

Jon Huntsman, meanwhile, having spent some time in China (now set to overtake us around 2016, according to the IMF), may have some things to say about American competitiveness, wealth and relative power that go a bit deeper than what we typically hear from politicians rigidly adhering to their vetted talking points.  It will also be interesting to see if that's true, and what people think about it/whether that influences the debate about America's overall economic trajectory and how to right it, if so.

One way or the other, candidates should remember what Michael Bloomberg's girlfriend apparently thinks: It's about my house, my job and-- I'd add this-- whether I'm getting ahead or falling behind.  Right now, to a lot of people, it looks like problems are racking up and people in a position to do something aren't (or they aren't doing enough); these datapoints make it look like that could easily continue.  Politicians of both parties beware. [intro]



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