Americans struggling for answers find themselves caught between a president who can’t seem to keep his focus on the country’s overriding problem of joblessness and a political opposition captive to extremists.
It’s a scary place to be in a violent world and one teetering on the brink of another global recession. Less than three weeks ago, on Sept. 8, President Obama presented his $447 billion American Jobs Act to the American public in a speech to the joint houses of Congress. In the week that followed, he repeatedly told audiences that Congress should “pass this jobs bill right away.”
And then? He sort of forgot about it himself. He once again wandered off track, first presenting a deficit reduction plan, then meeting world leaders and speaking at the United Nations about the Palestinians quest for statehood, then giving a speech on No Child Left Behind and education.
Granted. Being president of the United States isn’t your average job. It entails some pretty complicated logistics and responsibilities. But today, one issue demands relentless attention: Jobs. As Clinton strategist James Carville put in some 20 years ago, “it’s the economy, stupid.”
And nothing but the economy — jobs, foreclosures, the uncertainty and fear tens of millions of Americans feel — will decide the outcome of the next election.
There is a baseline, pragmatic side to this issue: Americans will not begin to spend again — and 70 percent of our economy is consumer spending — until they feel confident that unemployment is declining and their own jobs are secure. And their is a moral side: One in six Americans are either unemployed or underemployed. And the philosophy of the Republican Party, which could well win the White House and both houses of Congress next November, would let that one in six pretty much fend for themselves.
The GOP is against extending unemployment benefits. It steadfastly refuses to support any kind of tax increase to pay for government — for the rich or anyone else. It fervently believes the way to grow the economy is to cut the deficit — at all costs — even though it never seems to reconcile how a shrinking government at the time of shrinking private sector spending can lead to anything but additional pain and higher unemployment.
The Republican presidential debates never include questions about why sharp cuts in spending in Great Britain led to horrific riots in London this summer or why Greece continues to cascade toward default even as the government cuts pay sharply.
As unyielding and uniform as Republicans are on economic issues, it is on a range of different hot-button issues that the party’s growing extremism really comes to the fore. Take this week’s presidential debate in Florida. When asked, one after another, whether Barack Obama is a “socialist,” the candidates said “yes,” until Mitt Romney called him merely an “extreme liberal” influenced by the Social Democrats of Europe.
Neither the moderators nor the candidates managed to note that the president has repeatedly been criticized by his own party for seeking the center and ignoring the pleas of liberals in his own base. That’s a socialist?
Then came the question of immigration. There, most of the debate focused on how large a fence should be built between Mexico and the United States. When Rick Perry deviated from script to suggest that young adults brought to this country illegally as young children should be allowed to attend college, he became a target of not only Mitt Romney but the audience.
But the audience itself truly seized the day when it booed a gay soldier who came on screen to ask the candidates a question. Booed him.
It seems today’s GOP, with all its 911 flag-waving and professed support for our troops, draws the line if those troops risking their lives are gay. To hell with them.
Which brings me back to Barack Obama. Someone needs to tie him to a chair. Give him a sleeping tape filled with subliminal chants of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Get him to stay on focus. Because he is losing the American public and the American public’s trust. His poll numbers are in free fall. And if he loses the 2012 election to the current crowd running for the presidency, we are all in really serious trouble.