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Michael J. Panzner

Michael J. Panzner

Posted March 15, 2009 | 03:22 PM (EST)

Spin Country


In the award-winning ABC sitcom, "Spin City," fictional New York City Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty (played by actor Michael J. Fox) and other staffers spent much of their time trying to convince the public that things were better than they seemed.

Demonstrating how life often imitates art when it comes to politics, the cast of the Wall Street-Washington comedy show devoted a great many hours this week to putting lipstick on the pig of a worsening economic reality.

On Tuesday, for example, word "leaked out" from the head of Citigroup, Vikram Pandit, that the beleaguered financial institution was having its "best quarter-to-date performance since the third quarter of 2007," which helped to spark a not unexpected rally in financial and other stocks.

The next day, JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, in a speech at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce economic conference, said that he saw "'modest signs' of an economic recovery."

And on Thursday, Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis told reporters after a presentation at Boston College that he expected the bank to "make money for the full year after posting a profit for January and February."

Hmmm. Funny how well-choreographed those revelations seemed to be. Almost as if everyone was reading from the same script.

But that wasn't the only bullish storyline running through this week's show. Other characters were also doing their part to flesh out the message that the long-awaited recovery is suddenly within reach.

On Tuesday's "Charlie Rose Show," for instance, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was brimming with confidence when he said: "As a nation, we have a great record when confronting huge adversity, of coming together and moving to fix it. And we've done that in the past. I'm sure we're going to do that now."

Two days later, in a speech to top executives of the Business Roundtable, President Barack Obama went even further, declaring that the national crisis is "not as bad as we think" and that his plans will speed recovery.

Lawrence Summers, chairman of the President's National Economic Council, issued a similarly upbeat missive on Friday, when he noted to White House reporters that "consumers' spending seems to have stabilized in an encouraging sign."

Further reinforcing the message that there was little to fear, Vice President Joe Biden, speaking yesterday at a re-election fundraiser for Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, said he saw signs that economic confidence was returning and that the recent uptick in share prices stems from the "Obama factor."

And to top it all off, tonight's "60 Minutes" on CBS will feature an extra-long interview with Ben Bernanke, the first by a sitting Federal Reserve Chairman in 20 years. No doubt he will also be suggesting that things are looking up.

Call me cynical, but if circumstances are really better than they seem, why do they need to keep telling us that?

Sounds like "spin city" to me.