If Air Force One offered frequent flier miles, President Obama
would be a platinum member based on his domestic travel alone. For months, the president has crisscrossed the country to states where the economic meltdown has hit hardest -- pounding kringles
in Racine, Wisc., donning a hard hat in Youngstown, Ohio
, examining solar panels in Fremont, Calif.
-- all part of a broader effort to show the country that not only is jobs creation Priority Number One for his White House, but that the stimulus program is working. They even work-shopped a theme for it, "Recovery Summer
," and named Vice President Biden
captain of the cheerleading squad, shaking his recovery pom poms for governors
across the country. But for all the high-calorie treats consumed and assembly lines toured, despite all the conference calls and sis-boom-bah
ing, the economy just won't budge.
June's jobless numbers, released on Friday
, showed an ever-so-slight drop in the unemployment
rate, from 9.7 percent to 9.5 percent, a slip of silver lining the White House has pitched as evidence of being on the right track. Christina Rohmer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, wrote on Friday
, "June marks the sixth month in a row that private sector employment has increased. These continued signs of healing are important, particularly given the recent volatility in world markets and the mixed behavior of other recent economic indicators."
But, as the AP reported on Friday
, the country still has 7.9 million fewer jobs than it did when the recession began, and an estimated 14.6 million Americans were looking for work in June. The president knows these figures do not a recovery make. In a news conference the same day, Obama said
, "Make no mistake: We are headed in the right direction. But as I was reminded...earlier this week, we're not headed there fast enough for a lot of Americans. We're not headed there fast enough for me, either." The president also announced 66 new programs, helmed by the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, to bring broadband service to underserved parts of the country. Expected jobs created: 5,000. (The mathematics were so limp, the gesture seemed almost endearing.)
But Obama knows well that no single program can or will be a panacea to heal the deep gash in the U.S. economy, and he ended his remarks with a semi-somber "Onwards, through the night"-like command that has increasingly become his coda
in these tough times: "America has never backed down from a challenge. We've faced our share of tough times before. But in such moments, we don't flinch. We dig deeper, we innovate, we compete and we win. That's in our DNA. And it's going to be what brings us through these tough times towards a brighter day."
If the words of the commander in chief were meant to rally the dispirited foot soldiers of the American economy, the Republican opposition has characterized White House leadership as fueled by misguided policy that is taking the country down the path of defeat. In a report for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, decried the president's policies, saying "for a real 'Recovery Summer,' Congress
and the president need a different agenda -- lower taxes, lower spending, and less regulatory red tape."
This slow trudge toward recovery has given the GOP a platform to beat loudly the drum of reining in the deficit
and ending a reliance on "big government spending" to heal the economy. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans filibustered a bill
that would have extended unemployment benefits to millions of Americans. Though the legislation is expected to pass next month once a replacement for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is announced, as my colleague Jill Lawrence points out
, the issue has brought to the fore the argument between those who would increase the deficit to save jobs and those who believe in paying up front.
Either way, the economy, along with the war in Afghanistan
and the BP oil spill
, has presented Obama with a trifecta of Miserable Stuff That's Going to Take a Long Time to Fix. Unfortunately for Team O, the rhetoric of "Dig your heels in, America" seems far from the spirited cry of "Yes We Can!" For a nation that desperately needs a shot in the arm, woe is the president who must remain the bearer of the bad news.