When will the economy stop dropping because of the recession and start dropping because of the harm President Obama's cure to the recession is inflicting?
There probably will be a seam that will run through the polling and recession statistics in the next few months when the symptoms of the disease abate and those that Obama's program caused begin to kick in.
In short, when will the Bush recession become the Obama recession? In fact, it already may have happened.
Obama's popularity and the economic statistics fell, pretty much in tandem from his inauguration until early April. During this period, unemployment rose by 2 points, consumer confidence fell, and more than 2 million jobs were destroyed.
During the same time, the president's approval ratings, as Scott Rasmussen (www.rasmusenreports.com), measures daily, fell from a post-inaugural level of 65 percent to 55 percent.
Then both the economy and the president's approval ratings started to climb. The former was fueled by premature claims that consumer spending was rising (it turned out to be only a January post-Christmas blip) and that jobless claims were falling (they resumed their upward march in May). The stock market, impelled more by wishful thinking than by mature analysis, had its first positive month in April and optimism spread.
This good economic news combined with media hype about Obama's first 100 days and helped push his ratings back up over 60 percent.
But now both the economy and Obama are back on a downward trend. Could it be that the false dawn of late April was the seam we are awaiting? Could it have been the moment when the economy did what it would do naturally and begin its recovery, only to have Obama's policies squash the momentum?
Perhaps it was. But regardless, the moment is likely to come when the after-effects of the cure overcome the recovery from the economic disease.
The signs of a negative economic reaction to Obama's program are already quite visible. Interest rates on 10-year Treasury bills have risen by 50 percent since January in anticipation of the coming bout with inflation. Capital has been diverted wholesale from new businesses into channels that do the economy no good. The treasury's debt is soaking up funds. So is the sale of toxic assets from banks. The demands for capital set in motion by Obama's spending spree and his bank bailout plans are already blocking investment in economic growth.
Then, last week, in a breathtaking demonstration of presidential chutzpah, the president warned that the deficit, which he caused, is growing too large and that inflation (as a result of his policies) might be looming ahead. His peroration was likely to prepare the way for tax increases. Just as Reagan drove down taxes while increasing military spending and then used the resulting deficit to stymie liberal spending plans, Obama is increasing spending and the deficit to force tax increases.
But the president's belated recognition of the damage of his policies is scant compensation for the havoc they will cause.
And, at some point, soon, the public will get it that we are now in a recession caused by Obama's programs not by the shocks of 2008. His ratings probably will resume their stately descent and sink further. The key moment, of course, will be when his presidential approval score drops below his vote share of 52 percent. At that point, he is shedding votes and the political impact becomes serious.
Whether we have entered this phase or the seam has yet to come, the transition from the Bush recession to the Obama recession will be a historic moment with huge political consequence for this administration.