When Bill Clinton successfully evicted George H.W. Bush from the White House, he had an "unofficial" campaign slogan that captured the mood of a lot of unhappy voters: "It's the economy, stupid."
That actually entered the American lexicon accidentally -- the actual phrase posted by James Carville was "The Economy, Stupid," one of three reminders he posted at Clinton's Little Rock campaign headquarters. Whether it was supposed to enter the public realm is debatable, but like Bush's co-opt of "Where's the beef?" in his successful campaign against Michael Dukakis, it's out there.
And, much as it was in 1992, the lagging economy is on a lot of people's minds, especially those who will go to the polls next year to decide who sits in Congress and the White House.
On Thursday, the White House did little to bolster the confidence of the public, predicting that the nation's unemployment would hang around the 9 percent mark during the election year of 2012. That was exacerbated by the Office of Management and Budget forecasting U.S. economic growth this year at 1.7 percent, a full percentage point below what the Obama administration projected eight months ago.
President Obama can't help noticing the similarities between the challenges his administration faces and those that did in the elder Bush. Bush had some foreign policy successes that were outstanding -- the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War and his successful execution of the first Gulf War. Likewise, Obama has scaled down the Iraq war and Osama bin Laden, the most despised man in the world, was captured and killed on his watch.
But when it gets down to it, Americans are more likely to vote in line with their wallets than according to a president's foreign policy successes. That doesn't bode well for the president, or for the only institution in government that is getting lower marks than the administration -- Congress.
Even a planned speech next week by Obama on a new jobs plan shows the general dysfunction of Washington government that has voters irritated to no end.
The president wants to unveil his jobs plan to a televised joint session of Congress, which is ending its recess after the Labor Day holiday. The White House originally wanted to conduct the rare event on Wednesday, but House Speaker John Boehner nixed that time because it conflicted with a televised debate of the Republican presidential hopefuls who want Obama's job. So the speech has been rescheduled for Thursday, when it will go up against NFL football.
Millions of people out of work, and a policy initiative that purports to address that problem is bounced around based on, of all things, the critical considerations of TV schedules for pro sports teams and politicians' face time.
Yes, we're certain that jobs are on the minds of the president and every member of Congress. The question is, exactly whose jobs are they concerned with?
Ours? Or theirs?