Obama fights for credit as unemployment rate hits new low

Many Americans still think economy sputtering in wrong direction


The U.S. unemployment rate dropped Friday to its lowest rate since February 2008 -- and President Barack Obama probably doesn't think he's getting the credit he deserves.

At least that's what he suggested Thursday when he compared himself to Golden State Warriors' assistant coach Luke Walton, who led the NBA team to a stunning winning streak after temporarily taking over as interim head coach.

"You defied the cynics, you accomplished big things, racked up a great record. And you don't get enough credit," Obama said, pausing as the team and assembled guests erupted into laughter, before delivering the punch line.

"I can't imagine how that feels," Obama said sarcastically, with a wide grin on his face.

Obama has been repeatedly assailed by Republicans -- especially the party's presidential contenders -- for overseeing an economy that many Americans still regard as sputtering in the wrong direction.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly charged that "our country doesn't win anymore," claiming that other countries are "killing" the U.S. on trade. Trump has also slammed the reliability of the U.S.'s official unemployment numbers, calling them "phony."

Republicans' downtrodden views on the Obama economy aren't a surprise to Obama. But polls showing Americans still largely split on the country's economic conditions frustrate the President and his aides, who believe they orchestrated a turnaround few believed possible when he entered office in 2009.

A CNN/ORC survey conducted late last year showed 51% of Americans still view economic conditions as poor -- down steeply from the depths of the recession, but still more than the number who say the economy's good.

A falling unemployment rate -- Friday's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed it sinking to 4.9%, a low for Obama's presidency -- has helped improve Americans' views of the economy, along with sinking oil prices and (until last month) a rally on Wall Street.

But those factors haven't led to a nationwide consensus that the U.S. is fully recovered from the economic nightmare that loomed on Obama's inauguration day.

Economists point to flat wages, which have only recently begun to rise, as a reason many Americans say they're not feeling optimistic. And they suggest high levels of underemployment, along with entire workforces displaced because of changing needs, are fueling economic malcontent that can't necessarily be captured by monthly indicators.

The White House acknowledges those factors and argues a GOP-led Congress has done little to help advance Obama's job training agenda.

But the doom-and-gloom assessments of the economy -- both from Republicans, but also echoed in Democratic candidates' woeful assessment of income inequality and wages -- have begun to raise the ire of Obama and his aides.

A frustrated Obama has sought to insert his economic record into nearly every set of public remarks, and his team has orchestrated events around the country to highlight what he sees as unassailable bright spots on his record.

The latest example: a visit to Detroit, where he touted the American auto industry's comeback and lambasted his political rivals, who urged against bailing out the car manufacturers.

"It's strange to watch people try to outdo each other talking about how bad things are," Obama said in January after a tour of the North American International Auto Show. "But remember, these are the same folks that would've let this industry go under."

It's not just on the economic front -- Republicans have repeatedly attacked every one of Obama's signature accomplishments, from Obamacare to the nuclear deal with Iran and the free trade agreement he most recently signed with Pacific Rim countries.

Even on that point, Obama has taken heat from the Democrats vying to succeed him in the White House.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has called the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement "disastrous."

And after laying the foundation for the free trade deal as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton decided the TPP agreement didn't "meet the high bar I have set," noting that she was "worried" it would not do enough to address currency manipulation and would help big companies at the detriment of American workers.

It was a blow to the White House -- not necessarily because they required Clinton's support for the plan, but because her opposition implicitly suggested Obama's pursuit of the deal came at the expense of American workers.

Speaking this week, White House spokesman Josh Earnest insisted that Sanders and Clinton would be best served touting Obama's economic achievements.

"Evaluating the president's record is not a theoretical exercise. We've got numbers that we can consider," Earnest said. "The president's track record on issues important to middle-class families and important to Democrats is unimpeachable."