People I work with know that nothing frustrates me more than expedient context. That is the practice of using a set of facts and projected outcome to increase resource allocation, and then neglecting to track the future outcomes against the proposals.

It’s all right to be wrong. It’s not all right to ignore when you’re wrong.

Harvard professor Greg Mankiw has been tracking how the unemployment figures have squared with the Obama administrations projections as they justified the initial stimulus plan.

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From his original post in May:

To be clear, this lack of accountability is not a feature on this specific administration but is, instead, a reflection of the inherent uncertainties associated with macroeconomics. The administration, however, has not been particularly forthright in admitting to this lack of accountability. Indeed, the act of releasing quarterly reports on how many jobs have been “created or saved” gives the illusion of accountability without the reality.

I don’t point this out to quibble with the need for the stimulus plan, nor the kind of political gamesmanship required to drive a program through Congress. I do believe, however, that the American public has a finely-tuned ear, and that above all they want a kind of pragmatic vision from their leaders. To be a pragmatist and to have vision, you need to be able to face up to facts.

With no job recovery in sight, American’s don’t want to hear about the number of jobs that haven’t been lost. They want to hear about how many more jobs will be made.

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Americans have increasingly less confidence in the President and the administration. They don’t believe that key issues are going to get resolved effectively. Two-thirds of Americans say the country is more deeply divided on major issues than it has been for several years. And since the beginning of the summer, Obama’s approval rating has declined sharply, making him one of the least popular presidents one year into a term since World War II.

Of course, Reagan was in a similar place after one year and rebounded strongly. (Who can forget the leaks from David Stockman and the OMB during the budget process in those early years?) Obama can revive his charter.

I don’t believe it will happen without the American public hearing a message that helps them feel reassured that the focus of the Office of the President is on reclaiming vitality and purpose for the country, at home and abroad. To do that, Obama will have to narrow his charter and create a plan that is accountable to everyone.

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