After the Honeymoon, Lean Times for President Obama

The take-away line from Barack Obama’s Sunday appearance on “Meet the Press” was the president-elect’s declaration that “the economy is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Obviously, no one would argue with that, and it’s certainly smart politics for Obama to talk in such terms, as a way of tempering the public’s outsized expectations for his presidency. But, as the rest of the interview made clear, the country’s dire economic conditions – which have worsened significantly since Election Day, when they were plenty bad – seem likely to alter Obama’s presidential agenda, with potentially harmful effects on his popularity and his clout with Congress.

For the incoming president, a cautionary tale can be found in the example of Bill Clinton, who came to office 16 years ago amid an apparent recession and with a promise to focus “like a laser beam” on the economy. But Clinton’s presidency got blown badly off course in his early months in office, in part because of his chaotic and disorganized style, but also because the agenda he began pushing wasn’t quite the same as the one he’d campaigned on.

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