President Obama has a messaging problem.
The White House typically trumpets each bit of positive economic news as proof that Obama is ushering in a wave of new jobs. At the same time, the president has been traveling the country warning that doomsday is at hand, that $85 billion in federal spending cuts that kicked in March 1 are about to devastate the economy.
The problem with the White House's dueling messages became apparent Tuesday when the Dow Jones industrial average surged to an all-time high. If the economy was in such danger from so-called sequestration, how could investors' confidence simultaneously spike so dramatically?
Instead of highlighting the development, White House press secretary Jay Carney sidestepped it altogether.
"I don't comment on markets," Carney insisted.
Recent history has proved otherwise.
When attacking the Republican approach to fiscal issues just two months ago, Carney said, "As a result of their flirtation with default, the stock market plummeted. The Dow fell 7 percent, or almost 900 points, in late July and early August of 2011."
Even with his recent focus on immigration reform, gun control and other issues, Obama will be judged primarily on his economic stewardship. And the picture now being painted by the White House hardly projects the image of an economic savior.
Administration officials said Tuesday that things are so dire they have been forced to cancel public tours of the White House, starting Saturday. In a letter to lawmakers, the White House detailed the cancellation of all public tours, most of which don't require a paid guide.
Now Capitol Hill staffers who set up the tours are forced to inform visitors their White House excursions have been scrapped.
"What a load of bull," said one Republican staffer who will be making such calls to constituents. "The sky isn't falling. But hey, it's an easy argument for us: We'll just tell them that Obama canceled their tours."
Obama's double-edged message on the economy -- that it is improving and that federal budget cuts would throw it into a tailspin -- is rife with political risk, analysts said.
"The constant projection of either euphoria or devastation is creating a very jaded American public," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. "The Dow exploded and the sequester isn't doing what was anticipated -- the public is struggling with what to believe."
Others likened Obama's challenge to when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was accused of rooting for economic failure in states like Ohio and Florida purely for political gain. Republican governors in those states touted economic recoveries while Romney offered a far gloomier portrayal.
"It's tough to say that we're experiencing a recovery but a doomsday is also happening," said Republican strategist Hogan Gidley. "There's a contradiction there. Obama tries to take all the credit and none of the blame."