Freelining with Mike Freeman: A smiley face on Labor Day.

When it comes to spinning bad economic news, can President Obama learn from a pro?

Sometimes you just have to put a happy face on a bad situation.
When you’ve crashed your car into a lamp post because you were texting while driving, you need to find a pleasant way of looking at the situation. You know, I’ve been meaning to get a new car for some time now.
On this Labor Day, as the nation continues to struggle with a high unemployment rate of 8.3 percent and a sluggish job market, the expectation is that Democrats, starting with President Obama, will have to put on a very big smiley face as they start the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday.
After all, the unemployment rate was below 8 percent when President Obama first took office in January 2009, and it hasn’t fallen below 8 percent throughout his entire four-year term. Republicans think the President will have to come up with some pretty creative excuses to spin his way out of this one.
If that’s the case, my recommendation is that before the president heads off to Charlotte, he might want to have a private meeting with another politician who has a vast amount of experience spinning bad economic reports.
His name is Rick Scott, and he’s the Republican governor of Florida.
Just as many in the Obama camp like to say the president inherited a bad economic situation from his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, Scott — who took office in January 2011 — can also say he took charge just as Florida’s economy was spiraling downward, the victim of the collapse of the housing market. Scott could also point out that while his predecessor as governor of Florida was a fellow Republican, Charlie Crist, it’s also true that Crist bailed on the GOP in 2010 to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent, and just recently endorsed President Obama’s re-election and will even speak in Charlotte, so Scott was kinda/sort of preceded by a quasi-Democrat, right?
In any event, that’s brilliant response #1: Hey, when I took over, everything was tanking. Cut me some slack here. Consider the magnitude of the challenge I’m facing.
So it was a few weeks ago when it was reported that Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate had risen to 8.8 percent in July 2012, up 0.2 percentage points from June. The state lost 3,000 jobs in July, at a time when there are 816,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 9,269,000.
That figure was also above the U.S. unemployment rate of 8.3 percent in July.
And yet, when the governor’s press office responded to the report, well, you’d think the governor had just won the state Lottery.
“Florida continues to see evidence that Governor Rick Scott’s strategy for growing private-sector jobs is the right direction for Florida’s economy,” the news release gushed. “Since December 2010, Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped 2.3 percentage points, more than any other state in the nation. At 8.8 percent in July 2012, the rate is down from 11.1 percent in December 2010 just before Governor Scott was inaugurated.”
Break out the champagne bottles, folks.
The press release also quoted the governor, who noted “Overall, Florida’s long-term trend is positive. Florida companies have added 130,300 more private sector jobs than we had in December 2010. We are focused on making Florida the best place to grow private-sector jobs.”
He even noted that a London business magazine, fDi, had named Florida as the state with the best strategy for promoting foreign investment.
“As governor, I’ve led six trade and business development missions with the single purpose of increasing Florida’s international investment and trade and getting Florida back on the right track,” Scott noted in the release. “As more companies invest in Florida, there will be more jobs for Floridians.”
And who says politicians can’t turn lemons into lemonade.
It’s interesting that any effort by the Obama camp to suggest the overall trend nationally is good, even if the month-to-month results are not as encouraging as anyone might have hoped, is quickly dashed by critics as a White House hopelessly out of touch with the struggles of jobless Americans. Is the same true here in Florida, where a rising unemployment rate in July would almost certainly indicate an economy getting worse, not better?
I guess it depends on which party is putting the smiley face on the bad results.
Right after declaring that Florida’s economy was heading in the right direction, despite the rise in the unemployment rate, Governor Scott issued another release, noting that he had spent his 12th ‘Let’s Get to Work’ Day working as a striker on Captain Mike’s shrimp boat in Nassau County.
“Governor Scott’s workday began when he arrived at Captain Mike Adams’ dock in Yulee, along the Bells River, at 4:45 a.m.,” the press release noted. “After meeting the ship’s captain and his one-person crew, Governor Scott began filling coolers with ice to prepare for the day’s catch. Once Captain Mike’s shrimp boat, the Bag Boy, was loaded and ready to set sail for the fishing grounds, Governor Scott had the opportunity to listen to Captain Mike discuss the challenges and benefits of being a second-generation shrimper fishing the inland waterways.”
Maybe President Obama could follow suite on his way to Charlotte, and stop by Central Florida for a “Work Day” – which, as the governor’s press office noted, is an effort to have Scott work “at jobs that mirror the tasks he performed on his journey from public housing to the Governor’s Mansion.”
A more cynical response, I suppose, might be to dismiss all this as a staged photo opp of little value to the promotion of Florida’s still wobbly economy, but you know how those cynics are – always tsk tsking what our political leaders are doing.
So I would recommend that President Obama call Gov. Scott, or maybe stop by for coffee here in Orlando, and then spend an hour working at a job here – maybe parking lot attendant at Walt Disney World, or making Hoagies at the new Wawa convenience store, or something like that. He and Scott could also exchange ideas on how best to spin the next unemployment report stating that things only look bad if you grumpy types want to view it that way.

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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