Obama: We ‘couldn’t take victory laps’ on economy

Updated 1:47 PM EDT, Thu April 28, 2016
04:17 - Source: CNN
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Obama recently described his feelings on the economy

Obama says he regrets not taking 'victory laps'

(CNN) —  

President Barack Obama said he regrets he didn’t do a better job promoting the country’s economic recovery to the American people in an interview with The New York Times Magazine published Thursday.

His administration “probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history,” he told the magazine.

Throughout the interview, Obama expressed frustration over the fact that public perception about the economy remains negative despite important gains in recent years.

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It’s a perception he blames in part on his administration’s inability to communicate those successes, but also on a political narrative that’s being promoted by Republicans and some Democrats.

“If you have a political party – in this case, the Republicans – that denies any progress and is constantly channeling to their base, which is sizable, say, 40% of the population, that things are terrible all the time, then people will start absorbing that,” Obama told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin – author of a comprehensive treatise about the near collapse of the economy in late 2008.

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The story came amid a stock sell off Thursday and the announcement that the economic grew at an anemic pace in the first quarter – just 0.5%.

Central to the President’s defense of his economic legacy is the idea that the problem was not the policies he carried out, but his ability to sell those policies to the general public. It’s an unusual argument to be made by a man whose ability to sell himself and his unique story to American voters is what first put him on the map at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and later propelled him to the highest office in the land.

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“We were moving so fast early on that we couldn’t take victory laps,” he said in the interview, which took place about two months ago. “We couldn’t explain everything we were doing.”

“I mean, one day we’re saving the banks; the next day we’re saving the auto industry; the next day we’re trying to see whether we can have some impact on the housing market,” Obama told Sorkin.

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“I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter, then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate,” he said.

Obama acknowledged in the interview that there is an empirical basis for the public’s anger, as many people have stopped looking for work and the average household income is $4,000 less than when President Bill Clinton took office.

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The article also addressed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill signed in 2010 – another bill that got mixed reviews – but that the President says has helped make the financial system “substantially more stable.”

Obama also directly refuted a key argument of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“It is true that we have not dismantled the financial system, and in that sense, Bernie Sanders’ critique is correct,” Obama said. “But one of the things that I’ve consistently tried to remind myself during the course of my presidency is that the economy is not an abstraction. It’s not something that you can just redesign and break up and put back together again without consequences.”