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National Heartburn, Even With an Improving Economy

12:00 AM, Jul 5, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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So Americans will return to work on Monday with a bounce in their steps. Well, not really. The feel-good factor has yet to make itself felt. Gasoline prices have spiked as the disintegration of Iraq proves that fracking has not made us “energy independent”–oil prices are set in an international market. Rasmussen pollsters report that 52 percent of consumers say the country is still in recession, 67 percent say the economy is unfair to the middle class, and 74 percent expect their grocery bills to rise this year.

Investors are doing well—share prices continue to hunt for the stratosphere—but are a bit uneasy since the Bank of International Settlements warned that “euphoric” financial markets are unrelated to the condition of the world’s economies. The low-interest rates set by the world’s central banks, say BIS economists, are merely postponing “a bigger bust later on.” Critics ask the Fed to please take note.

Even Americans who feel that the recovery is about to accelerate—a view with which this observer is inclined to agree—remain unhappy. Almost two out of three Americans—63 percent—feel the country is on the wrong track. The president’s approval rating is 42 percent, down from a January 2009 peak of 69 percent and well below the 62 percent recorded by Bill Clinton, the last Democrat to occupy the White House, at the same point in the electoral cycle. Congress is held in even lower esteem. The day when President Reagan and a Democratic Congress could get the nation’s work done, cordially, is long past. Obama doesn’t do cordial. Relations between him and the Congress have reached such a low point that Congress is preparing a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the president’s decision to move on several fronts without congressional approval, and the president has invited the speaker of the House to “Sue me.” Good thing he is unfamiliar with “Guys and Dolls” or he might have sung Nathan Detroit’s “All right already, so nu, so sue me, sue me, what can you do me” to a Congress as unpersuaded of his desire for a congenial and enduring relationship as Adelaide was of Nathan’s good intentions.

The president told us that under Obamacare we could keep our doctors, and it turns out we can’t; that terrorism is on the run, and it isn’t; that the slaughter at the embassy in Benghazi was due to reaction to an anti-Muslim video, and it wasn’t. The Internal Revenue Service says all of the e-mails relevant to the investigation of its discrimination against conservative organizations have gone lost, and Veterans Affairs has cooked its books to conceal the long waiting-times suffered by veterans in need of care. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children, many with infectious diseases, are crossing the porous Mexican border every day and being bussed around the country with instructions, likely to be ignored, to show up for deportation proceedings, while the president asks his team to come up with ideas by September. The nations’ infrastructure is in bad shape and the highway trust fund is about to go broke. Warring House Republicans can’t agree on immigration reform. All of that, plus 155 million hot dogs, is enough to create national heartburn, even if the jobs market is improving.

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