In The New York Review of Books, Ezra Klein finds little to love about Ron Suskind’s new book, The Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President. Perhaps because Suskind found little to love about the economic advisors Obama surrounded himself with and the resulting policies, which, Suskind says, led to the decline in Obama’s poll numbers.
In criticizing this conclusion (and some others) as unproven, Klein makes an important point – one too often ignored in the current conversation – a point which may end up being just an historical footnote, if Obama is not re-elected (I’m confident he will be). But it’s a reminder of how much time we waste puzzling over what history tells us is quite predictable.
The President’s poll numbers aren’t the mystery Suskind presents them as. If you want to know what killed Obamaism, the answer is the stagnant economy. No president, no matter how politically graceful or personally confident, looks good in the midst of an economic crisis. When unemployment rose during the 1980–1981 recession, President Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings fell below 40 percent and his party lost twenty-six House seats in the midterm election. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Federal Reserve twisted toward austerity too early and sparked the 1937 recession, Democrats lost more than seventy seats the following year. No one would accuse either president of insufficient charisma or weak leadership. Americans don’t want leaders so much as they want jobs. And that’s Obama’s problem now, too.
I’ve read two of Suskind’s earlier books and found both to be well sourced and so well written as to reach that novelistic heaven of “couldn’t put it down”. But I haven’t yet read this one, so can’t comment, except to say I usually find Klein to be a fine reporter and writer as well.