Obama and jobs

All the news stories seem to be about his.

It’s natural that a president seeking re-election would be the center of scrutiny when the economy is so down and unemployment so high. But the story of how tough times are impacting Americans is buried under the headlines of what impact it all has on President Obama’s political future.

Like this Reuters story.

Most polls have shown Obama defeating any of the current Republican White House contenders next year, but the continuing fiscal woes are cutting into his lead. A Reuters/Ipsos survey this month showed 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, amid higher gasoline prices, stubbornly high joblessness and a weak housing market.

“Despite his or his handlers’ rhetoric, the electorate — if the various polls are an indication — has given plenty of feedback that it wants specifics and definitive action, not pablum, and most definitely not the ‘I feel your pain’ response to the seeming endless stream of negative economic news,” said Gerald Shuster, a political communications expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

See, this is what bothers me, even while I understand political news coverage and especially as the campaign starts to heat up. The stories are quoting political communications experts and spin doctors. And they wind up with bottom lines like these:

Mayer suggested Obama’s best strategy might be to sidestep Congress and work directly with state governors, many of them Republicans, on a stimulus plan targeting state governments, given steep budget cuts and layoffs at the local level.

“The numbers coming out of state capitals are looking pretty horrendous,” he said. “These are very significant job losses and if you could save some of those jobs, that would have some positive outcomes for Obama.”

Not to mention the individual people and their families.

Who are otherwise known as voters. This piece edges closer to considering them as more than just that…barely.

In 2008 Mr Obama represented change. This time he will have to fend off charges that he is to blame for the achingly slow recovery by arguing that it would have been worse without his actions, such as his $800 billion stimulus package and the takeover of GM and Chrysler. That may be true but it is not easy to sell a counterfactual on the stump

a counterfactual“?

(as the first President Bush learned). And there are other holes in Mr Obama’s record. What happened to his promises to do something about the environment or immigration or Guantánamo? Why should any businessman support a chief executive who has let his friends in the labour movement run amok and who let his health-care bill be written by Democrats in Congress? Above all, why has he never produced a credible plan to tackle the budget deficit, currently close to 10% of GDP?

Now they’re thinking outside the 2008 media box.

A serious Republican candidate must come up with answers to the two big problems facing America’s economy: how to get more people back to work, and how to fix the deficit.

Yes. How to get more people back to work, that’s the point.

And raising taxes means taxing individual citizens and families already hurting in their homes, if they still have them. So if it must be done, people must be convinced and brought on board a tough reform program.

An honest Republican candidate would acknowledge this and lay out the right way to do so—for instance, by eliminating distorting loopholes and thus allowing revenues to rise. He (or she) would also come up with a more systematic plan on the spending side. No Republican seems to understand the difference between good spending and bad. Investment in roads and education, for instance, ought not to be lumped in with costly and unreformed entitlements, like Social Security and Medicare. Defence should not be sacrosanct. That Mr Obama has no strategy either is not an excuse.

Thanks for the honesty, finally.

In most elections promising toughness is not a successful tactic; but this time Americans know that their country has huge problems and that their nation’s finances are the biggest problem of all. In Britain the Conservatives made the incumbent Gordon Brown seem ridiculous by spelling out the austerity that he at first barely dared mention; now another tough-talking centre-right party has won in Portugal (see article). If ever there was a time for pragmatic conservative realism, it is now.

How about that…realism as a tactic. It sure beats the alternative.