Every now and then, the media will scratch its head and wonder why President Obama's poll numbers are so awful, when there's good economic news he should be benefiting from. This almost invariably refers to the stock market, the lone bright spot of the long non-recovery we've been slogging through for the past five years. The latest befuddlement over Obama's inability to benefit from market energy comes from The Hill, which begins by explicitly telling us that we ought to be thanking the current occupant of the White House for high times on Wall Street:
A 98 percent gain in the stock market should be a boon to any sitting president, but that hasn't been the case for President Obama.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly doubled in value since Obama took office, but the stock surge has done little to chip away at lingering pessimism about the economy and how the president has handled the economy.
Obama's approval numbers remain stuck in the mid-40s despite a remarkable bull market that closed 2013 up 28 percent and at record highs. As stocks climbed last year, Obama's approval headed in the opposition direction, sliding 11 points to close the year at 41 percent, according to Gallup.
The market has been more volatile at the outset of 2014, but still stands vastly ahead of the dark days when Obama first took office. But polling consistently shows that while Wall Street is back on its feet, many voters are still looking for their recovery.
This is not really difficult to understand, and to its credit, The Hill promptly quotes an analyst who gives one of the obvious reasons:
That leaves Democrats looking to strike a balance between noting the progress the economy has made, while hammering home an inequality message aimed at the continued discontent.
"No politician at this point wants to be defending the performance of the economy today, and you shouldn't be. It's still really bad," said Josh Bivens, director of policy and research at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
"The market can be at 16,000, but if you've got these long-term unemployed… what does that do?" said Douglas Rediker, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and adviser on Obama's first campaign. "That's something I think the administration is deeply concerned about."
People who can see the obvious trappings of malaise right outside their windows - from lackluster employment to high gas prices - are not going to cheer up because Wall Street investors are making lots of money. The Hill goes on to note that fewer Americans are invested in the stock market now, which is a major goal of liberal policy. The Left hates the idea of a big investor class filling up the middle income brackets. The down side to success in their efforts to push the Little Guy out of the market is that the Little Guy has less reason to celebrate when the market does well.
Barack Obama has been a very successful general in the Left's long war against the middle class. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that America's middle class has now slipped behind Canada's in wealth. A great deal of "income inequality" class-war gobbledygook poured forth as a result. But all of that "income inequality" has been building up on Obama's watch. Who is surprised to learn that an American middle class wrestling with high unemployment, and holding fewer investment assets, finds itself slipping behind people who make money off a stock market that has been receiving steady infusions of money through the Administration's quantitative easing policies?
It's rather difficult for Obama to expect applause for a rising stock market when his Party spends a good deal of energy demonizing Wall Street. In fact, they're just emerging from the unhappy ending of a troubled romance with an incoherent gaggle of left-wing radicals who called themselves "Occupy Wall Street" - a group that enjoyed a sustained period of extremely favorable coverage from the media wing of the Democrat Party, back when it was hoped they would be the liberal answer to the Tea Party. That doesn't leave much room for Obama to posture as maestro of what his party portrays as a pack of robber barons.
Another big reason Obama won't be taking any bows for the stock market is the American Left's new fascination with the work of French Marxist Thomas Piketty. One of Piketty's attractions to hardcore liberals is the intellectual rationale he presents for total State power over the economy, including punitive taxation designed not just to redistribute wealth, but actually destroy it. Piketty justifies this by saying that the humble low-income worker can easily prove he "deserves" his salary, but people who make their money from more complex endeavors cannot... so the almighty State and its wise commissars should simply confiscate whatever they don't deserve. Piketty has particular disdain for investment income, including not just Wall Street high rollers, but middle-class small investors, who he derisively refers to as "petits rentiers." Not much chance that a left-wing President can hitch his poll numbers to stock-market success when his ideological soul mates are gobbling up a book that portrays all investment as banditry.
Another component of Piketty's theory is that investment income grows too much faster than earned income from labor, creating an inequality bomb that eventually detonates and wipes out free-market capitalist societies. That's catnip for liberals of every stripe, because it gives them limitless ammunition for class warfare - a horror story they can repeat to the Workers of the World at bedtime every single night. Provided the middle class has been subdued - made dependent upon government programs like ObamaCare, driven out of the investment game, no longer keenly aware of the linkage between national economic growth and their own fortunes - this is a great intellectual framework for a permanent class war.
And it's a great opening for the Ruling Class to harvest political power, especially if they stress the importance of carefully "managed" capitalism, the power of its dynamic innovations. Capitalists are therefore kept as scapegoats on very short leashes, forever on the verge of being declared Enemies of the People. The political aristocracy gets to live like kings - people like Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi sure as hell aren't talking about themselves, or their special billionaire friends, when they whine about the growing gap between rich and poor - while blaming everything that goes wrong on their private-sector "partners." They'd have to shoulder the blame for failure if they actually seized government control of capital. It's so much better to milk capitalism for both money and excuses. Focusing on the supposedly obscene benefits of investments that the Little Guy is no longer capable of making is a terrific way to do that.
But it means a liberal President has to keep a certain amount of distance from Wall Street, trusting his media pals not to remind anyone of just how much money Wall Street gives his political campaigns, which billionaires he answers to, or how many well-heeled magnates have scooted away from his Administration with bags of taxpayer loot. Democrat strategists are already advising the Party to crank up its phoney-baloney "we're just like you" rhetoric to trick voters into embracing them as the working man's friend. They've just about beaten the electorate down enough to embrace the New Normal. The last thing they need is a Wall Street victory lap that reminds a declining middle class that some people are still cleaning up... or how the awful "income inequality" Democrats complain about gets worse when they're in charge.