As a small-business owner, I don't need to wait for the government reports of leading indicators and indices to know that there's been a tightening in people's willingness to spend over the long hot summer of 2010. The day-to-day experience of talking to clients and other business owners confirms that something is choking off spending for many as they hunker down for worse times ahead.
I'm going to lay some of this at the feet of President Obama but it's more than just a matter of policy. Barack Obama is hurting the economy in a way that would have been hard to predict back in 2008 when even his harshest critics agreed that he showed qualities of charisma and leadership that caused so many to feel confident again in America's future.
That feeling about whether things are going to be better or worse tomorrow drives people's economic decisions at a gut level. It's beyond ideology and party loyalty. What the economy is with dealing with right now is the death of hope.
The first wave of disappointment in Obama came from early decisions that showed that the outsider candidate we'd elected showed that he wasn't going to be as big a change from establishment politics as we'd been led to believe. He replaced some Republican insiders with Democratic insiders, and left others in place. The cozy relationship between Wall Street and Washington remained. The military-industrial complex was safely in place.
All of these policy decisions caused no end of bickering among those who follow politics but most people just want to live their lives, pursue their careers and raise their family. Regular folks shrugged off the noise as rifts opened up in the Democratic Party between Obama loyalists and critics and in the Republican Party between Tea Party activists and old-school conservatives.
Then came the summer of 2010 and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was no longer about ideology simply about core competence. As the environmental and public relations dragged on, the realization occurred somewhere deep in the pit of America's stomach -- Obama doesn't have what it takes to lead during a crisis.
We didn't need Obama to act like the hero from a Jerry Bruckheimer movie and don scuba gear to plug the well himself. What we needed was simply someone in charge to hold BP's feet to the fire and to tell us the truth but the drip drip drip of the summer's oil torture made it clear that a straight story is too much to expect from the White House.
This sense that we're back to the stumbling mess of politics as usual seems to have kicked in during the heat of July and August -- call it a double-dip disappointment in the Obama administration.
Obama's defenders love saying things like "this isn't a dictatorship and change takes time" but what is required here isn't iron fisted rule.
Just to name one example of stumblebum leadership, the Obama administration could have put the economy in a much better place simply by reading the Huffington Post columns of economists like Dean Baker and Robert Reich, who have a demonstrably better track record of prognostication then Larry Summers or Timothy Geightner. No one is calling for kangaroo courts and firing squads in the Rose Garden. It's not dictatorial to fire people for incompetence.
There's no area where the Obama administration is showing clear eyed, determined leadership -- not in foreign policy, job creation, financial reform, civil rights, or immigration. Nowhere. Look wherever you like --, where is there any sense that Barack Obama is really in charge?
So how is running things? It's the same people who've been running things into the ground for the past couple of decades. And meanwhile -- everybody knows the boat is leaking.
If there's a bright spot in all this, it's that people and the economy adapt. There are amazing business opportunities right now and there are markets that are thriving. We'll weather this bad patch but it's still tragic that President Obama has squandered his potential to transform