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'Feeling pain' trumps facts in race for the presidency

Jun 22, 2012 - By The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

BlackRock Inc. managing director Michael Fredericks let about 3,000 investors in on a secret Tuesday evening at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis.

Remember last week when President Barack Obama was criticized by Republicans for saying the "private sector is doing fine?"

The president was right.

"U.S. corporations are incredibly healthy," Mr. Fredericks told the investors invited to the Peabody for a private event held by Wells Fargo Advisors. He was the warm-up act for America's most famous bipartisan political couple, Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican consultant Mary Matalin. The two were dating in 1992 when Mr. Carville helped Bill Clinton defeat incumbent George H.W. Bush, who was advised by Ms. Matalin.

The driving force in that campaign victory was Mr. Carville's insistence that the Clinton campaign remember three words: "The economy, stupid."

The state of the economy probably will play a key role in deciding whether Mr. Obama wins a second term or Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is elected.

In that regard, Mr. Fredericks' presentation might have been more important than the arguments provided by the spin merchants.

No doubt, the executive of the world's biggest asset manager had a reason to pump up confidence in American corporations.

Perhaps that's why a recent Bloomberg survey of top global investors showed that 49 percent of them prefer Mr. Obama compared and 38 percent prefer Mr. Romney, the former head of Bain Capital.

But what really worries the investor class, he said (without mentioning the president), is the same thing that has been driving Mr. Obama's narrative: The middle class is getting killed.

Mr. Carville agreed:

"Basically, you had pneumonia, and then you got hit by a truck," he said. "That's what's happened to the middle class."

Consumer spending drives an economic recovery. The depression of middle class wages, and the loss of middle class wealth in the Great Recession, reduces spending. Americans need money to spend. That would drive a revival.

This is the story of the 2012 presidential election: The middle class needs help. So who do middle class voters believe will offer them the most help?

Mr. Carville, ever the strategist, said that even though Mr. Obama may be right about the economic recovery going on in the private sector, he won't win if he talks about it. His job, the "Ragin' Cajun" said, is not to talk about the jobs that have been created, but let those in the hurting middle class know that he sympathizes with them.

In 1992, Mr. Clinton convinced Americans that he felt their pain.

Twenty years later, they're hurting again, and they need the next president to demonstrate the same sort of empathy.

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