The Obama administration hosted an event at the Department of Transportation on Tuesday to mark the first case of stimulus money creating infrastructure jobs. But even as the president, vice president and secretary of the DOT were touting the 60 employees who would find work through a contract in Montgomery County, Maryland, a more ominous economic index hung over their heads.
The plunging of the Dow Jones industrial average, to levels not seen since the late 1990s, has taken the air out of the room and grabbed a stranglehold on much of the news. It has also left Obama and his aides in a bit of a bind: unable to turn to the market (indeed, not willing to respond to the whims of market activity) they must find ways to show that their economic policies are working.
What's ensued is a battle to redefine the frame of success: blue-collar jobs versus the Dow average, Main Street v. Wall Street.
On Tuesday, the President took the stage to declare that, "already," the impact of the stimulus package "is being felt across this nation. Hard-working families can worry a little less about next month's bills because of the tax cuts ... and transportation projects once on hold are now starting up again."
The White House, meanwhile, put out a fact sheet on Tuesday morning, asserting that investment in infrastructure would lead to 150,000 jobs saved or created by the end of 2010, surpassing, the president noted, the number of employees GM, Ford and Chrysler "have lost in manufacturing over the past three years combined."
But for all the work created by the stimulus -- Obama said more than 200 projects would be launched across the country "over the next few weeks" -- there are those who will insist that the financial markets determine the administration's report card. Already, Republicans are using phrases like 'Obama-Bush continuity' to describe the current state of the economy, and the commentariat is practically begging the president to focus more on the markets.
"I'm not saying, 'Mr. President, go stare at the Bloomberg quote machine and come to your senses,'" said CNBC's Jim Cramer. "I just want some sign that Obama realizes the market is totally falling apart. And that his agenda has a big hand in that happening."