Here in New York City today it is snowing on the first day of spring. It’s a reminder that the world often refuses to cooperate with our plans, stubbornly going on as if our seasonal markers were completely irrelevant. But the weather’s autonomy bestows on us a certain liberty: we’re not obliged to control what we cannot. Smiling at a storm will not forestall the sun, and frowning will not summon the clear skies.
We think there’s something we can learn from the weather that is instructive about Barack Obama’s appearance on Jay Leno last night. Critics at the New York Post are saying that the president shouldn’t “yuk it up on Leno while the economy burns.” Others have criticised Obama for filling out his NCAA tournament brackets, saying he should spend more time on the economy and less on basketball.
“He flies off to Los Angeles tonight to be on the Jay Leno show,” Senatory Jon Kyl of Arizona reportedly said. “My suggestion is that he come back since he’s taken the full responsibility [for the AIG bonuses] to get his people together and say, ‘All right, I want to know exactly what happened. Who did what when? And how are we going to prevent this from ever happening in the future?’ “
We think there’s a bit of superstition going on here. The exact doctrine of this superstition is hazy but it seems to be something like this: if the president thinks about anything besides the economy for even a moment, the economy will get far worse. Part of this is no doubt an opposition strategy–Republicans want to confine Obama’s agenda to a narrowly construed economic program, preventing him from pursuing any other goal. At the same time, his opponents are willing to take advantage of any opportunity to criticise the president. (Which is just fine. That’s politics.)
But the superstition is dangerous. A corallary of the demand for constant presidential attention on the economy is the proposition that economic problems are pliant to political energy. To put it more crudely, it’s based on the idea that Obama can rescue us from recession if only he tries hard enough. That can be a comforting thought but there’s little evidence for it. It can snow on a morning that we’ve declared the first day in spring.
Eventually, our lean economic times will likely pass. In the meantime, we should probably be grateful to the president for reminding us that its OK to smile, its admirable to laugh in times of hardship.The recession is not going away any faster just because we’re angry or unhappy. Laughter will not raise the unemployment rate or push up Libor spreads.
“NYPost all upset that O is on Leno in a recession,” James Altucher of TheStreet.com wrote on twitter this morning. “Isn’t the President allowed to laugh?”