11 March 2010

The Perception Problem

Do yourself a favor and ready Bob Herbert's Monday NY Times column. The key points:
The Obama administration and Democrats in general are in trouble because they are not urgently and effectively addressing the issue that most Americans want them to: the frightening economic insecurity that has put a chokehold on millions of American families.

The economy shed 36,000 jobs last month, and that was trumpeted in the press as good news...ut once you realize that it will take 11 million or more new jobs to get us back to where we were when the recession began, you begin to understand that we’re not really making any headway at all.

Instead of focusing with unwavering intensity on this increasingly tragic situation, making it their top domestic priority, President Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill have spent astonishing amounts of time and energy, and most of their political capital, on an obsessive quest to pass a health care bill.

Health care reform is important. But what the public has wanted and still badly needs above all else from Mr. Obama and the Democrats are bold efforts to put people back to work. A major employment rebound is the only real way to alleviate the deep economic anxiety that has gripped so many Americans. Unaddressed, that anxiety inevitably evolves into dread and then anger.

But while the nation is desperate for jobs, jobs, jobs, the Democrats have spent most of the Obama era chanting health care, health care, health care.

People know that the government that is supposed to be looking out for ordinary people — for working people and the poor — is not doing nearly enough about an employment crisis that is lowering standards of living and hollowing out the American dream.

The Republican Party has nothing in the way of solutions to Americans’ economic plight. It is committed only to the demented policy of trying to ensure that President Obama and the Democrats fail.

But the fact that the Republicans are pathetic and destructive is no reason for the Democrats to shirk their obligation to fight powerfully and relentlessly for the economic well-being of all Americans. There are now six people in the employment market for every available job. There is a staggering backlog of discouraged workers who would show up tomorrow if there were a job to be had.

The many millions of new jobs needed to make a real dent in the employment crisis are not going to materialize by themselves. Mr. Obama and the Democrats don’t seem to understand that.
Politcally, the administration really have no choice but to put health care up for a vote in congress. If they fail to do that, then they will be in more dire straits this November than they would be otherwise. That said, both branches of government have spent too much time on this issue.

With unemployment at its highest in twenty years, with the long term jobs outlook at its bleakest since the Great Depression, and with all forecasts pointing to a very long and extremely slow jobs recovery unless a massive intervention is made, President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid should have made jobs the number one focus of their major legislative battles this past year. From a public relations perspective, the perception that the government is trying anything and everything to put Americans back to work is a win-win. That the problem has taken a backseat to health care is exactly why the health care debate has been such a cluster-fuck, and reason #1 why Americans can't stand the current congress.

But, what's done is done. The Democrats in the House need to get their heads out of their asses and pass the Senate health care bill. Just get it done and out of the way. Once it has passed, both houses of congress and the President need to spend every moment for the rest of year pushing major jobs legislation. It has to be all jobs, all day, 24/7. Every single one of them should work day and night, and shorten up the summer recess. They have one last chance to show Americans that they know what the nation's #1 top priority is, bar none. (And any tinkering they do to fix the Senate health care bill needs to be done behind the scenes, out of view of the media and the American public.)