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Obama and the Economy: An Exertion Gap?

3 years ago
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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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168 Comments

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Terry Campagna

Unfortunately, all that Obama has done is create larger government, more control which is killing small business. The states have way too many government employees at high salaries, great benefits, healthcare, etc. because of labor unions all of this is killing America. The feds are also over staffed, the American taxpayer is paying for them and they in turn do nothing for us, except try to get more regulations in so that they can keep their jobs. Probably more than a 1/3 of all of these people could be done without and we would never notice the difference. It is time that the private sector rebels.

September 01 2010 at 2:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

It's not an exertion gap. It's a competency gap...

August 29 2010 at 10:39 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
atrackgirl

I think both sides are at fault. Blaming one another for what they have and have not done is high school. Both sides have contributed to the debt. Both sides need to work on it. I feel the democrats need to be opened minded and the republicans need to do more than complain about how the dem's are doing things. Don't complain if what’s going on is something you don't like and you don't have a bright idea or plan. Likewise, if you see your plan isn't working don’t stop the next man or woman from presenting an idea. I think a new government system needs to take place if both the reps. and the dems can't get it together. To the unhappy people, it didn't take 1 1/2 years to make this debt, for the life of me I can't figure out why you would expect it to go away in 1 1/2 years. Everyone has played there part in building up this debt. The government is a long story on and what they've done but the people, i can touch on briefly. When those credit cards came around and you ran up one or two or many more, you knew you couldn't pay it all back so what happens, you file bankruptcy, your problem may have went away but the debt is still around. Along with another government system, the welfare and even unemployment need to change as well. I shouldn't be eating meatless spaghetti and you and your 6 children eat steak and lobster and you collect unemployment. Something needs to be done. I feel the program isn't teaching those 6 kids anything but how to work the system like their parent(s) community service or a shot of birth control in the ass is needed. At least then i would feel a little better about you eating steak knowing that in 9 months’ time the 7th member is going to be eating it too. To touch on unemployment. My aunt has been on it for over 4 years and her benefits just keep getting extended. What does she do with the money, buy beer and get high. The good life. It’s not hard to go to places and turn in an application so when you see your case worker and you can tell her "I’m looking". Something needs to be done. I am in college. Looking at people abuse the system is discouraging. What am I working towards? Me paying for 6 kids and a drunken aunt? The message I'm getting is drop out of school and get knocked several times and live off welfare and the state through unemployment. At least then I could eat steak too.

August 28 2010 at 10:46 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
heinerscar

The problem with "stimulus" is that it destroys jobs, it doesn't create them. Ever. It's worse than a "nothing burger," it hurts regular people. Think about it. To fund a job "there," the government has to take money from other jobs "here" (through taxes), then give it to the "created" jobs. That's just the nature of the beast. Taking money from an employer means that employer has less available to pay in wages, so they lay off more, more often, hire less, pay less. And, sometimes, they die. So, to save an autoworker's job at GM, someone else somewhere is sacrificed. Actually more than one, because government 1) pays more and 2) isn't 100% efficient; much money is lost / wasted. Economists call this a less-than-zero sum game. That's why stimulus is indeed (sad to say), a losing proposition. Borrowing the money (deficit spending) to try and hide the price-tag (and the jobs lost) is even worse--the bill still comes, but with interest. Employers know this, which is why they're not hiring, and why they're saving their money for that not-so-far-off rainy day. That's why there's no recovery. The truth is the government has scant power to create useful jobs without destroying a greater number of existing jobs. And, the harder they try, the worse off we'll be.

August 28 2010 at 4:30 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
davegoush

From my prospective, Obama did a grand job of campaigning and utilizing the new social media tools all the young generation uses to convince them he was the progressive, "make it happen" guy to be president. I remember during the campaign all the excitement that the 20 somethings had for him and when would ask them if they knew his policies and agenda's they had no clue what he was about. It seemed they were thrilled with a candidate speaking to them through their media that they never bothered to research the man, his political history, his policies and his beliefs. I have to give Obama credit for being a great speaker, but as in all thing here in the real world, it's great to talk the talk but you MUST Walk the walk which of course he falls way short on. He has no leadership background, no business background and no avery long political history as well. It seems the democrats have only had time to pass what is on their agenda and nothing with any real results in mind for the common man. It seems they are drunk with power and are enjoying all the perks of the victory they won 18 months ago. All I see is spending, waste and talk from Obama and the dems. At this point it seems no government official (deomcrat or republican) can be trusted once they are elected as they are after serving their own agendas from that point on. It looks as though it is time for the American people to reformat our government system and that means dramatic changes to the system itself for long term results. The party system in this country has outlived its usefullness and we need to come up with another way of deciding who makes the decisions in this country. Since this system is in place I don't think we will ever be able to shut it down and reboot with a new system. So brace yourselves and grab ahold of something as this is going to be a very rough fall we are about to take for the next few years due to the latest Democratic government changes as well as the mistakes of the past administrations as well. I wonder how our children will write this chapter in history.

August 27 2010 at 10:45 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to davegoush's comment
hairhofla

while you're busy bashing President Obama...and he does deserve some criticism ....just remember what we could have had with McCain and Palin.....god forbid THAT should ever come close to happening.....If I were Pelosi and Reid...I think I would keep Congress and Senate in session all the way through November 2nd or until something got done on the economy....The Republicans have held the issue up long enough

August 27 2010 at 11:13 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
Thomas

It's nice to be able to read a political article and not know the authors political affiliation. Thank-you Mr.Corn.

August 27 2010 at 10:29 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Tommy

Thank you Mr. Corn for your insight. I appreciate it. Unfortunately, to the ineducable, it will always be someone elses fault.

August 27 2010 at 9:09 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
Holly

Is ANYONE actually remembering the true reason for the lack of jobs in the US? It started in 1994 when NAFTA was implemented. It has been a slow and painful death for this country. Now that there are no jobs, manufacturing to professional. (Except for thieves... Politicans, Financial "professionals" and Lawyers) This process has taken a long time to reach this point. It cannot be repaired in 1 1/2 years especially without the cooperation of both parties. The GOP has unfortunely impaired this by opposing basically every issue put before them. Does any of this have to do with the fact that he is black? Excuse me half white and half black. I believe it does. Anyway I don't want to be negative, but until we get the jobs back that went overseas or create new ones. There is no magic either political party can do. Obama has kept us from falling deeper into the fire and we are headed in a better direction. To him the people come first.

August 27 2010 at 9:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Holly's comment
robertmarocco

the only person that has a clue. thanks holly

August 27 2010 at 9:44 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply
jtzeph

David talks of perception and political machinations , but the truth is the Democrats have nothing in their idealogical arsenal to promote. Pundits have offered that Reagan was in a similarposition in 1982. Nothing is further from the truth. Reagans tax cuts were hostage to a justifiably harsh monetary policy at the hands of Paul Voelker. The opposite is reality now in that every stimulative tactic, from Stimulus spending for the public sector, a Fed Funds rate of .25%. quantitative easing, even in the mortgage market, and an anti-private sector tone that is encouraging a lack of hiring. The only tool remainig, tax cuts, are a path the left is loath to follow.

August 27 2010 at 4:52 PM Report abuse +26 rate up rate down Reply
John

I am tired of all the talk. I haven't worked in 18 months. I get no unemployment benefits. Therefore; I am not even counted in the stats of being unemployed. It's not like I haven't looked for work, no one has money to hire anyone. Oh sure, I can find a $7.25 an hour "do you want fries with that" kinds thing, but I have 2 college degrees and years of experience. I normally make $60.00 an hour. Let's see, what have the Democrats done for me?? What.. How about Nothing.

August 27 2010 at 3:36 PM Report abuse +35 rate up rate down Reply

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