My sister who is visiting from DC had quite an intriguing lead-in: “I have an economics and PR question…” Those are two of my favorite things! “Considering the global pandemic and Russia starting a war in Europe,” she continued, “Isn’t there a better way to address the recession than denying it?”
Yes. Yes, there is.
Generally speaking, two successive quarters of economic shrinkage—a decline in gross domestic product—is considered a recession. And the U.S. just recorded successive declines in GDP in the first two quarters of 2022.
Yet the White House refuses to call this a recession. This is a messaging mistake. Everyone buying groceries or gas knows the economy is terrible. Not acknowledging this makes the administration seem even more out of touch.
Looking at this purely from a PR perspective, the Democrats have a great argument if they want to make this a class war and steal some fiscal restraint narrative away from the right. If the Democrats are really the party of the working class (and I am not saying they are), now is the time to bring in the rhetoric.
Our economic growth has been fueled by cheap debt for two decades. This has been the deliberate policy of the Federal Reserve who has kept interest rates close to zero to allow Wall Street to access huge amounts of money at artificially low prices. The rationale was that this was necessary to keep the economy growing.
These minimal Fed rates at the same time have all but wiped out personal savings accounts, forcing individuals saving for retirement to—you guessed it—rely solely on the stock market for any sort of return on investment for retirement savings.
And there have only been four years out of the last 22 where the Fed hasn’t been led by a Republican-appointed chair. If one were a partisan Democratic spin doctor, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Fed chairmen appointed by very rich Republican men have been coddling Wall Street with cheap debt for nearly two decades.
So where is that left-wing war cry? Why aren’t the Democrats standing up for individual households and taking the fight to the billionaires who have been enriching themselves hand over fist with other people’s money?
Probably because Democrats are taking just as much money for their campaigns from Wall Street billionaires as Republicans.
And even the other root causes of the recession (let’s go ahead and call it that) aren’t getting the airtime they could be, even though they could easily fall in the Democratic wheelhouse. President Trump managed to polarize the nation over the pandemic while simultaneously the U.S. led the world in the rapid development of multiple vaccines. It appears the current administration is afraid to even mention it.
America’s labor market is still challenging employers and keeping productivity low. One of the largest issues is access to available childcare. Lack of vaccines for children under five until very recently made this even more difficult. Universal childcare seems like, I don’t know, a bread-and-butter issue for Democrats. Where are they on this issue?
Messaging couldn’t be more muddled over the global oil and gas crisis, and that is a Democratic problem as the left rushes to a green economy without sufficient green energy sources. The administration raided the strategic oil reserve twice while refusing to re-open the sale of new oil leases in the U.S. and gas prices climbed over $6 a gallon in some states. Instead of looking at bringing more U.S. refineries online, President Biden made a bizarre trip to Saudi Arabia to request more cooperation regarding increased oil production.
The oil crisis is a direct result of the war in Ukraine. The savvy partisan move would be to blame this on the previous administration’s cozying up to Vladmir Putin, pointing out that this seeming acceptance and tolerance emboldened a despot to declare a full-out war in Europe. But the Democrats aren’t taking this bait.
I am not saying that I particularly agree with any of the above partisan statements. I am saying that I am really surprised that none of these rather basic narratives are coming out of the White House.
After my recession conversation with my sister and thinking about the Democrats’ complaisance, I was somewhat jolted Monday night to see the local evening news interrupted by a Presidential address. There was President Biden on a White House balcony, with a lovely backdrop of the Jefferson Memorial, speaking to the nation about the assassination of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri via a drone strike in Afghanistan.
President Biden was forceful, emphatic, and to the point. “Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” he said. After his brief remarks, national news media briefly offered commentary, and clearly had been provided appropriate details and talking points on the drone operation.
Retired rear admiral John Kirby recently left the Pentagon to join the National Security Council to lead strategic communications. Kirby, whom I served with in the Navy, brings 30+ years of experience in government public affairs experience to the White House and it showed on Monday.
From the timing of the address, to the advance copy given to the national press, to the attention given to the backdrop, it was clear that a pro was managing this event. Hours of planning and coordination went into 15 minutes of live television, and it showed. The administration would be well served to find more John Kirbys for its immediate press staff.
There is perhaps no element of a presidency that a nation feels more than the economy. And there is no relationship that a president can make with an entire nation stronger than that via the media, whether it be traditional, digital, or social media. This administration and the Democratic Party have lost control of the narrative on the economy, and they would best regain it with some more grown-ups working the press.