Next time Gallup or a major news outfit conducts a poll, here's the question I'd like to see asked: Do you believe that President Obama and the congressional Democrats are working their butts off day and night to turn around the weak U.S. economy?
Polls routinely ask respondents if they trust or approve of how the president and members of Congress are "handling" the economy. In a recent survey
, no one scored well. Only 45 percent trusted the congressional Democrats to do a good job on the economy; 43 percent said the same of the Republicans; and fewer people -- 41 percent -- approved of Obama's performance on the economy. Worse for the president, 61 percent said the economy has not improved on his watch.
But the American people are not unreasonable (at least, not all of them); three-quarters said it would be unrealistic to expect economic improvements in the first year-and-a-half of Obama's presidency. Still, my hunch is that what many would like to see is Obama and members of Congress focusing nonstop on whatever might be tried to juice up the lackluster economy, which in these final days of summer might be further faltering and heading toward another dip.
Yet does it seem that the Dems are putting in overtime to create -- or save -- jobs?
If you ask the staffers of Capitol Hill and the White House, they'd say that they -- and their bosses -- have been burning the midnight oil at both ends of the candle for the past 20 months (and it sure feels longer than that). But with Congress on a six week recess and Obama vacationing in lovely Martha's Vineyard, might it appear to some voters that there is no one in Washington at this moment worrying about them?
Vacation is not truly the issue. Few begrudge leaders time off. The real problem for the Dems, as they head toward the coming congressional elections, is whether voters view Obama and his congressional allies as people obsessed with reviving the economy. Voters presumably would be a bit more forgiving if they believed the Dems are doing and trying everything to create jobs. But my hunch is that Obama and the D's are not creating such an impression.
What's the political topic of the month? The silly controversy over the Islamic center being built in downtown Manhattan. It's not this Democratic initiative or that Democratic initiative to buck up the economy. If anyone picks up a paper or turns on a news show (granted, there's less of all that in August) he or she will not see the president and the party in power toiling away on their behalf. Sure, Democratic legislators are back home touting all their heavy lifting for their constituents. But there is a difference between telling and showing. Moreover, the White House's effort to brand the past three months as "Recovery Summer"
is no blockbuster success. Summer travelers on the highways may have seen a bunch of signs identifying road-building as recovery projects, but how many times were you at a barbecue and someone asked, "Hey, how's your Recovery Summer going?"?
In a larger sense, Obama has lost control of the nation's political narrative. He passed a major stimulus package that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, may have created or saved up to 3.3 million jobs
and lowered the unemployment rate by 1.8 percent. But he lost the message war over that accomplishment, with many Americans (maybe in response to GOP demagoguery) believing it was a big nothing-burger. He enacted health care legislation -- only after allowing the opposition to tag it with "death panels."
In his inaugural address,
Obama, quoting the Bible, said, "The time has come to set aside childish things," but he hasn't succeeded in persuading the rest of the politerati to do so. And these days, the Obama news concerns big upcoming speeches on Iraq and education -- important topics, most definitely, but not as critical as jobs, jobs, jobs. Where are the cut-through-the-clutter, cannot-be-missed signs that he and the Democrats are fighting to resuscitate the economy 24/7? Obama does give speeches and hold town hall meetings concerning the economy -- discussing the measures he has enacted -- but can voters cite significant moves he and his Democrats are currently contemplating? His endeavors have not fired up the public's imagination or inspired far-reaching confidence.
Given the stubborn and vicious GOP political opposition, Obama might not be able to get much more through Congress, no matter that the Democrats are in the majority. But with those elections approaching, and the economic news remaining discouraging, the president and his Dems must persuade wary voters (most notably, those pesky independents) they are attempting all that is humanly possible -- even (or especially) in the face of Republican recalcitrance. Effort matters. And in politics, effort has to be demonstrated over and over for it to register with voters, particularly those who may be disenchanted, skeptical, angry, worried, or all of the above.
It doesn't appear that Obama has forged and maintained that sort of bond with a majority of voters. Democrats were hoping that a summer economic turn-around would ease the way toward the fall elections. But no such harvest is looming. Though the political pros of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have been prepping long and hard for the final stretch -- banking plenty of money, setting up field operations in at-risk districts, reserving massive amounts of television airtime for precarious Democratic incumbents -- Obama and the D's also need to win over voters with action. And there's not much time.
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