According to T. S. Eliot and a now annual chorus of newspaper columnists, weathermen, bloggers, marketing departments, six o’clock news anchors, drive-time deejays, adolescent poets, and tax-mad accountants, April is the cruelest month. This year, however, January and February each made strong cases that the dubious honor should be reassigned. In 2009’s first month the economy lost 598,000 jobs; Starbucks quit brewing decaf after noon; and one of Germany’s richest men, in despair over the huge losses facing his business empire, killed himself by jumping in front of a train. February was no better. Nearly 700,000 Americans were thrown out of work, the most in any month since 1974; the unemployment rate neared 8 percent; Berkshire Hathaway, the insurance and investment firm run by the wise and farseeing Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett, posted its worst losses in 44 years; and a retired British soldier shot himself in a Southampton park after losing his life savings in Bernie Madoff’s black hole.
In the midst of all this, a new president was inaugurated, and when a mere twenty days after taking office he declared at a town hall meeting in recession-smote Elkhart, Indiana, that if the nation did not act immediately it would “sink into a crisis that, at some point, we may be unable to reverse,” he was immediately criticized for not being sufficiently chipper.
“Obama has turned fearmongering into an art form,” declared economics professor Bradley Schiller in the Wall Street Journal. “Words like ‘catastrophe,’ ‘crisis’ and ‘depression’ are coming from the mouth of the newly elected president, rather than words of hope and optimism,” complained Investor’s Business Daily. The Big Dog wasn’t