Is it morning in America? Or is now a time for blood, sweat, toil and tears? As the United States warms up for the presidential elections, the choice between those two narratives will be the most important decision each party makes and may determine who wins in 2012.
Both are ways of talking about the economy — the issue that polls show overwhelmingly preoccupies U.S. voters. The morning-in-America storyline is that the financial crisis is over, the economy is healing and the country’s innate powers of renewal, reinvention and innovation are already asserting themselves. The blood, sweat, toil and tears view is that the U.S. economy is still sick and that it will take a significant, arduous and collective effort to nurse it back to health.
For now, the White House is committed to morning in America. That was the message of a discussion among members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness that I moderated this week at the New York Forum, a high-powered annual gathering of CEO’s and politicians that is shaping up to be New York’s answer to Davos.
The most influential voice on my panel belonged to Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama. Mrs. Jarrett has worked as a lawyer, chief executive and Chicago City Hall heavyweight. But her most important qualification today is as the confidante, consigliere and best friend of the Obamas, whom she first got to know two decades ago when she interviewed the future first lady for a job and wound up meeting her fiancé, too. Mrs. Jarrett has the president’s ear, and his back — and she is always on message.
That’s why her determined good cheer at the forum matters. “We have good reason to be optimistic,” she said. “We have great entrepreneurs and the capacity to reinvent ourselves. This is still the best country on earth.”