The Hope Train ’rounds the bend on its trip to that house upon a rock


[See note at bottom that explains what “Hope Train” posts are, and are not.]

(via: AP):

“In the speech, the president juggles a glass-half-full take on the economy with a determination to not be seen as naive about how well things are going.”

Talk about juggling glass-half-full takes, the AP reporter who wrote that sentence should run away to Ringling Brothers.

I have no idea what the sentence means, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the actual speech President Obama delivered this morning. In it — I’ve read the text, but didn’t hear him deliver it and other than the AP story, have not read any punditry — the President, in a professorial and bullet-point fashion, retraces the steps he believes got us to this point and the actions that his Administration and Congress have taken since the inauguration.

He then presented a summation of what he believes the positive outcome of those actions are:

So all of these actions — the Recovery Act, the bank capitalization program, the housing plan, the strengthening of the non-bank credit market, the auto plan, and our work at the G20 — have been necessary pieces of the recovery puzzle. They have been designed to increase aggregate demand, get credit flowing again to families and businesses, and help them ride out the storm. And taken together, these actions are starting to generate signs of economic progress. Because of our recovery plan, schools and police departments have cancelled planned layoffs. Clean energy companies and construction companies are re-hiring workers to build everything from energy efficient windows to new roads and highways. Our housing plan has helped lead to a spike in the number of homeowners who are taking advantage of historically-low mortgage rates by refinancing, which is like putting a $2,000 tax cut in your in pocket. Our program to support the market for auto loans and student loans has started to unfreeze this market and securitize more of this lending in the last few weeks. And small businesses are seeing a jump in loan activity for the first time in months.

I have decided to call that paragraph, “The Hope Train Manifesto.” The next paragraph of his speech is what will hereafter be called, “The Hope Train Caveat”:

“This is all welcome and encouraging news, but it does not mean that hard times are over. 2009 will continue to be a difficult year for America’s economy. The severity of this recession will cause more job loss, more foreclosures, and more pain before it ends. The market will continue to rise and fall. Credit is still not flowing nearly as easily as it should. The process for restructuring AIG and the auto companies will involve difficult and sometimes unpopular choices. All of this means that there is much more work to be done. And all of this means that you can continue to expect an unrelenting, unyielding, day-by-day effort from this administration to fight for economic recovery on all fronts.

However, the Manifesto and Caveat are merely the mechanics of the Hope Train.

In his speech this morning, the President ended with what I will now call, “Glimmers of Hope: The Official Hope Train Hymn” (yet to be scored by is this soaring poetry that would make Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan (and New Testament readers) proud:

“There is no doubt that times are still tough. By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time, we are beginning to see glimmers of hope. And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of an America’s future that is far different than our troubled economic past. It’s an America teeming with new industry and commerce; humming with new energy and discoveries that light the world once more. A place where anyone from anywhere with a good idea or the will to work can live the dream they’ve heard so much about. It is that house upon the rock. Proud, sturdy, and unwavering in the face of the greatest storm. We will not finish it in one year or even many, but if we use this moment to lay that new foundation; if we come together and begin the hard work of rebuilding; if we persist and persevere against the disappointments and setbacks that will surely lie ahead, then I have no doubt that this house will stand and the dream of our founders will live on in our time.”

(A note of clarification to those who have e-mailed me thinking these Hope Train posts are tracking anything that may indicate the economy is improving. They are not. They are tracking (granted, with a goofy label) the challenge the White House has in projecting an optimistic message about the economy (something I believe is important) while still managing expectations and the need to promote additional stimulus measures that will need to be explained to a dubious Congress and citizenry. I personally have no idea where we are along the road to recovery (or into the abyss), although I’m on record as saying we’ve already hit bottom (the technical point at which a recession “ends” but not, necessarily when it begins charging towards recovery). Personally, I tend not to plan for the best or plan for the worst. I try to plan on finding opportunity whatever happens. And I turn off CNBC whether they are hyping the market up or panic-mongering it down. So please, if you’re into pessimism porn, that’s a topic unrelated to the Hope Train so don’t feel like you need to send me links. I see them every day, believe me.)

That light you see at the end of the tunnel is the Hope Train approaching


(via: AFP) President Obama today said he sees “glimmers of hope” that the US economy may be wrestling free of a paralyzing recession but warned of “a lot of work” ahead to nurse it back to health. “We’re starting to see progress, and if we stick with it, if we don’t flinch in the face of some difficulties, then I feel absolutely convinced that we are going to get this economy back on track,” Obama said. But “we still have a lot of work to do, and over the next several weeks you’ll be seeing additional actions by the administration,” he said after talks with top officials steering the recovery effort.

(A link to all the Hope Train posts (reverse chronology) can be found here.)

The people hop aboard the Hope Train


According to a new NYTimes/CBS News Poll, the number of people who think the country is heading in the right direction has jumped from 15 percent in mid-January, just before the inauguration, to 39 percent today, while the number who think it is heading in the wrong direction has dropped from 79 to 53 percent. That is the highest percentage of Americans who said the country is heading in the right direction since February of 2005.

As I wrote recently, “the recession may not be over, but the recession narrative seems to be recovering.”

The New York Times Notices the Hope Train Rolling By


The New York Times today ran an essay by Peter Baker about the Hope Train. Well, not exactly. He didn’t mention the term Hope Train. But it’s a look at the challenge President Obama has in communicating confidence to the American people, at the same time he correctly manages our expectations for the timing of economic recovery.

Baker’s essay quotes White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s regarding his insider’s view of the debate that took place inside the White House regarding when and how-much they should “project confidence.” I believe the posts I’ve categorized as “Hope Train” provide a pretty good indicator of the timing with which Obama administration officials decided to turn from fear to hope.

Interestingly, the essay includes comparisons to past Presidents I have mentioned in these Hope Train posts, specifically: Roosevelt, REagan and Jimmy Carter. Here’s an example:

“Regardless of how much credit they really deserve, Roosevelt and Reagan, or their legends, certainly have driven successive presidents to focus on their tone, knowing that they will be judged on it. George W. Bush projected steady assurance in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But his relentlessly upbeat assessments of the war in Iraq later made him seem disconnected until he eventually acknowledged that the war was going badly and changed his strategy.

“People just stopped believing him after a while,” said Alan Brinkley, the provost of Columbia University and a presidential historian. “Obama’s different from Roosevelt and Reagan in that he’s kind of cool and calm and yet he can also be very charismatic. I think the sense of calm and reason is what makes people trust him. He doesn’t have the ebullient enthusiasm that Roosevelt had and Reagan had, but it’s a different kind of confidence.””

Provost Brinkley, in that quote, exhibits why those who study history are not always good at judging “the present.” While Obama may not posses ebullient enthusiasm (I disagree with that assessment), he has exhibited the ability (in historic terms) to illicit ebullient enthusiasm from his supporters. His style is not what matters — it’s the response.

Happy one month anniversary, Hope Train


Exactly one month ago, the President started to include hopeful messages in his speeches, answers and comments about the economy. Before that, he had stuck to a steady drumbeat of fear-inducing warnings, often evoking “The Great Depression,” in an effort to gain support for his economic stimulus package. Unfortunately, as economist Robert Shiller wrote in the NYT on February 22, President Obama’s “Depression narrative could (have) easily (ended) up as a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


Fortunately, the President suddenly turned to a hope offensive as soon as the stimulus package passed, or as we say here, he hopped aboard the Hope Train. In an apparent celebration of his one month journey, in his press conference tonight President Obama claimed, “early progress…in his aggressive campaign to lead the nation out of economic chaos and declared that despite obstacles ahead, ‘we’re moving in the right direction.'”

Speaking of Robert Shiller, he and fellow economist George Akerlof, have just released a book called, Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism that more deeply explores the issues raised in his essay last month. Markets are feelings, as well as conversations, it appears. I’ve just downloaded the book to my Kindle.