This article is in many ways typical New York Times. It comes from a distinctly liberal perspective, and views solutions to the problems that America faces through a liberal prism.
The big difference in this case is that it really takes a critical look at a Democrat. It slams Barack Obama as being basically disinterested and uninvolved in – and even uncomprehending of – the biggest crisis facing the country.
Does Obama Get It?
By BOB HERBERT
Published: October 5, 2009
The big question on the domestic front right now is whether President Obama understands the gravity of the employment crisis facing the country. Does he get it? The signals coming out of the White House have not been encouraging.
The Beltway crowd and the Einsteins of high finance who never saw this economic collapse coming are now telling us with their usual breezy arrogance that the Great Recession is probably over. Their focus, of course, is on data, abstractions like the gross domestic product, not the continued suffering of living, breathing human beings struggling with the nightmare of joblessness.
Even Mr. Obama, in an interview with The Times, gave short shrift to the idea of an additional economic stimulus package, telling John Harwood a few weeks ago that the economy had likely turned a corner. “As you know,” the president said, “jobs tend to be a lagging indicator; they come last.”
The view of most American families is somewhat less blasé. Faced with the relentless monthly costs of housing, transportation, food, clothing, education and so forth, they have precious little time to wait for this lagging indicator to come creeping across the finish line.
Americans need jobs now, and if the economy on its own is incapable of putting people back to work — which appears to be the case — then the government needs to step in with aggressive job-creation efforts.
Nearly one in four American families has suffered a job loss over the past year, according to a survey released by the Economic Policy Institute. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans is officially unemployed, and the real-world jobless rate is worse.
We’re running on a treadmill that is carrying us backward. Something approaching 10 million new jobs would have to be created just to get back to where we were when the recession began in December 2007. There is nothing currently in the works to jump-start job creation on that scale.
A massive long-term campaign to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure — which would put large numbers of people to work establishing the essential industrial platform for a truly 21st-century American economy — has not seriously been considered. Large-scale public-works programs that would reach deep into the inner cities and out to hard-pressed suburban and rural areas have been dismissed as the residue of an ancient, unsophisticated era.
We seem to be waiting for some mythical rebound to come rolling in, magically equipped with robust job creation, a long-term bull market and paradise regained for consumers.
It ain’t happening.
While the data mavens were talking about green shoots in September, employers in the real world were letting another 263,000 of their workers go, bringing the jobless rate to 9.8 percent, the highest in more than a quarter of a century. It would have been higher still but 571,000 people dropped out of the labor market. They’re jobless but not counted as unemployed. The number of people officially unemployed — 15.1 million — is, as The Wall Street Journal noted, greater than the population of 46 of the 50 states.
The Obama administration seems hamstrung by the unemployment crisis. No big ideas have emerged. No dramatically creative initiatives. While devoting enormous amounts of energy to health care, and trying now to decide what to do about Afghanistan, the president has not even conveyed the sense of urgency that the crisis in employment warrants.
If that does not change, these staggering levels of joblessness have the potential to cripple not just the well-being of millions of American families, but any real prospects for sustained economic recovery and the political prospects of the president as well. An unemployed electorate is an unhappy electorate.
The survey for the Economic Policy Institute was conducted in September by Hart Research Associates. Respondents said that they had more faith in President Obama’s ability to handle the economy than Congressional Republicans. The tally was 43 percent to 32 percent. But when asked who had been helped most by government stimulus efforts, substantial majorities said “large banks” and “Wall Street investment companies.”
When asked how “average working people” or “you and your family” had benefited, very small percentages, in a range of 10 percent to 13 percent, said they had fared well.
The word now, in the wake of last week’s demoralizing jobless numbers, is that the administration is looking more closely at its job creation options. Whether anything dramatic emerges remains to be seen.
The master in this area, of course, was Franklin Roosevelt. His first Inaugural Address was famous for the phrase: “The only thing we have to fear. …” But he also said in that speech: “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” And he said the country should treat that task “as we would treat the emergency of a war.”
Now that’s the sense of urgency we need.
More Articles in Opinion » A version of this article appeared in print on October 6, 2009, on page A31 of the New York edition.
Not to dive into the genetic fallacy, as so many liberals so often do, but it is nevertheless significant that the Economic Policy Institute is a distinctly liberal think tank. And Hart Research Associates aint exactly Rasmussen. So while I don’t know that they aren’t right in their survey about Obama vs. Congressional Republicans, I would point out: 1) that I wouldn’t regard it as gospel; and 2) don’t forget that as LOW as Bush got in the polls, he STILL outperformed the Democrat-controlled Congress throughout his entire presidency.
In fact, Bush had more than DOUBLE the ratings of the Democrat Congress:
Bush’s job approval rating fell to 24 percent from last month’s record low for a Zogby poll of 29 percent. A paltry 11 percent gave Congress a positive grade, tying last month’s record low.
So in terms of net differences, Bush actually fared quite a bit better when pitted against a Democrat Congress than Obama is faring when pitted against Congressional Republicans. And I would submit that the public thinks a lot more highly of Republican ideas than this smoke-and-mirror statistic would otherwise indicate. Just sayin’.
I made that point just to demonstrate the statistical sleight of hand going on.
Now, Bob Herbert is a big government, rah-rah FDR guy, who sees the big public projects of the WPA as the model for our country’s salvation.
For what it’s worth, I – and Congressional Republicans – agree(d) that that would have been FAR better than Obama’s $3.27 trillion pork-laden employment bust known as the stimulus.
A New York Times story points out why Republicans opposed the porkulus so fiercely:
But the committee’s ranking Republican, Jerry Lewis of California, asserted that the program would do far too little to finance road construction, flood control projects and other works for the public good.
“Facts are stubborn things,” Lewis said, describing the package as a recipe for bloated government programs that would saddle taxpayers with a debt burden “well, well into the future.”
And now even the New York Times is essentially acknowledging that the Republicans were right and Obama was wrong.
I would also point out that the Hoover Dam is named the Hoover Dam because Herbert Hoover was doing public works projects before FDR. And Herbert Hoover was the guy that every Democrat loves to blame for the Great Depression.
And while we’re on the subject of what happened in the 1930s, I might as well point out that things didn’t go so good under the leadership of FDR.
In fact, FDR’s Treasury Secretary had this to say as he looked back over the decade:
“We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong… somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises… I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started… And an enormous debt to boot!” — Henry Morganthau, FDR’s Treasury Secretary, May 1939
A look at the graph of unemployment should help you understand what Henry Morganthau understood:
It shouldn’t surprise you when you take the time to learn about what FDR attempted that he actually prolonged the Great Depression by seven years.
Having mentioned the massive yet mysteriously ignored failure of FDR to solve unemployment or get the economy going, allow me to return to Obama’s current failure.
Still another liberal publication, Time Magazine, ran an article back in July entitled, “Obama’s Stimulus Plan: Failing by Its Own Measure.” It begins:
Back in early January, when Barack Obama was still President-elect, two of his chief economic advisers — leading proponents of a stimulus bill — predicted that the passage of a large economic-aid package would boost the economy and keep the unemployment rate below 8%. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Last month, the jobless rate in the U.S. hit 9.5%, the highest level it has reached since 1983.
And of course, it’s currently 9.8% – and almost certain to keep rising.
Now contrast what the Obama team predicted – a ceiling no higher than 8% unemployment – and then see what the administration is trying to pass off now:
Vice President Joe Biden delivered a rousing review of the government’s economic stimulus plan in a conversation with the nation’s governors. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would work this well,” he said. “Thank you, thank you.”
I mean, is this a statement that when team Obama said that they believed their stimulus plan would keep unemployment under 8% that they were being fundamentally dishonest with the American people? And that 9.8% unemployment is better than their wildest dreams?
And don’t just say Vice President Joe Biden is an idiot and dismiss him. He IS an idiot, of course. But he is the official spokesidiot of the Obama Administration.
Having affirmed that significant public works-style projects would have been a massive improvement over the failed Obama stimulus, allow me to briefly point out a few other things that would have helped the nation restore confidence in the U.S. economy and the jobs that would have gone with it.
For one thing, tax breaks would have helped, but we didn’t get them.
Contrary to Democrat fluffery, there really weren’t “tax breaks” in the stimulus. Rather, the people who got the “breaks” didn’t actually pay federal income taxes. The “tax breaks” were really welfare breaks. Lowering taxes stimulates more investment and more productivity by allowing investors to keep more of what they earn, rather than incentivizing them to shelter their money, which raising taxes invariably does. Transferring money from the pockets of tax payers and giving it to those who didn’t pay federal income taxes – even if you euphemistically call it a “tax break” – simply doesn’t accomplish that goal.
Another thing that would have helped was targeting stimulus toward the businesses that actually do most of the hiring.
Small businesses which employ 20 or fewer workers are responsible for 50% of the jobs in this country. And businesses defined as “small businesses” are responsible for nearly 3/4ths of the total jobs in the USA.
And what did small businesses get from the stimulus? Butkus. The porn-loving National Endowment for the Arts actually got more stimulus funds than all the small businesses in the country combined.
If Democrats wanted to create jobs, they might have considered giving the money to businesses that actually created jobs, rather than to their politically connected liberal special interest groups. Again, just sayin’.
It also would have helped if the stimulus had been something that actually helped more than it hurt. The Congressional Budget Office, hardly a conservative bastion, reported that the stimulus bill would lead to a lower GDP 5 to 10 years out than if Congress had done absolutely NOTHING. The enormous government spending will ultimately crowd out private investment which would have had a much higher chance of increasing GDP than the spending in the stimulus bill.