What constitutes dishonesty in politics, in leadership, for a U.S. President?
The Labor Department reported today that the nation added 431,000 jobs in May. The good news: it was the fifth consecutive month of job growth. The bad: private employment, the best indicator of real economic recovery, climbed just 41,000. It had increased by 218,000 in April, and economists had predicted private employment, to rise by at least 190,000 in May. Thus the low number was a setback for the economy’s recovery.
Not to hear the President describe it, however. “What these numbers do mean though is that we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “The economic policies that we’ve put in place are working.”
The first part of the statement is literally true, but misleading. One additional job would be “the right direction,” after all. Obama knows, and he knows that anyone who pays attention knows, that 390,000 of the total new jobs are government jobs, and most of them are benefits of the once-a-decade census, jobs that are only temporary and will disappear by the Fall. “The economic policies that we’ve put in place are working” is either puffery, deception, wishful thinking, or in the category of “How stupid does he think we are?”
Predictably, Obama critics are crying ethics foul, that the President is dishonestly claiming a fake recovery based on the glut of temporary census workers. I think he deserves some slack.
A leader needs to keep hope and optimism alive. Would they have Obama say, “Well, this is terrible! Those Census jobs are meaningless, and it looks like private hiring has stalled. Based on this month’s figures, we just haven’t figured out how to get out of this”? Recessions are psychological as much as economic; it is imperative that Americans have confidence in the future. Those who want the unvarnished bad news can get it easily. When a leader puts a hopeful gloss on ominous events, he or she is really saying, “Don’t worry. We’re slogging through this. There’s an end in sight.” That’s not spin, or deceit. That’s leading in a crisis.
Those who are convinced that the President is up to no good won’t accept that, and who knows? They could be right. Maybe Obama is trying to trick everyone. Maybe, as I heard one radio talk show host claim yesterday, his policy is to end the employment crisis by making everyone work for the government in a series of low-level, temporary jobs, and the second part of his statement is literally true. I think the right and fair way for citizens to treat their leaders is to give them the benefit of the doubt and the presumption of good faith until they give us no choice but to distrust them. President Obama hasn’t reached that point—yet.