Obama's Trouble Articulating The State Of The Economy It's easy to give a rousing State of the Union speech when the economy is doing well, but Obama has had a hard time hitting the right note in years when the country was hurting.
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Obama's Trouble Articulating The State Of The Economy

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Obama's Trouble Articulating The State Of The Economy

Obama's Trouble Articulating The State Of The Economy

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With the economy expected to dominate the president's State of the Union address, White House correspondent Tamara Keith got to thinking about his past speeches - in particular, the rhetoric this president has used to talk about the economy and how Republicans have responded.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When you're president of the United States, what you say about the economy matters a lot, because the economy isn't just about numbers and widgets. It's about people's lives and hopes. The health of the economy is intertwined with the national psyche.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others.

KEITH: In February 2009, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and a nation in the throes of the worst recession in generations. Obama used the word crisis 11 times.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis because you live it every day. It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights.

KEITH: The month before, the economy shed nearly 800,000 jobs. And the situation would get worse before it got better. But in that first address, President Obama and his speechwriters figured the American people weren't simply looking to him for sympathy and an accounting of economic doom. Obama ran on a message of hope. And he needed to offer some.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: Tonight, I want every American to know this - we will rebuild. We will recover. And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: But since then, Obama has had a hard time hitting the right note when talking about the economy. In that first speech, he was an outsider. But in the years that followed, it was his economy. In 2010, he reframed, saying the worst of the storm had passed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again.

KEITH: But just barely. The recession was technically over, but there was a huge disconnect between Obama's words and what Americans were experiencing. One in ten people still couldn't find work. In 2011, it was the same story - an optimistic Obama talking to an unconvinced American public.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: The stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.

KEITH: And so it went, year after year. Obama described green shoots and good news that economists say were real. But many people watching at home simply didn't feel. And each year, Republicans in their official response had no problem finding very real pain to highlight. The contrast between Obama's assessment and the GOP response was never starker than in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: The state of our union is getting stronger. And we've come too far to turn back now.

KEITH: And here's then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels with the GOP response.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITCH DANIELS: The president did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight. But he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse.

KEITH: The economy wasn't actually worse. The unemployment rate was no longer rising. It was coming down. And that trend has continued. In 2014, U.S. businesses added more jobs than in any year since the go-go 90s. This time, when President Obama stands at the front of the House chamber and talks up the economy, polls, consumer confidence surveys and $2-a-gallon gas all indicate the American public is more likely to agree with his assessment. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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