The Obama administration seems to be feeling sorry for itself. Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, is perturbed that Mr. Obama is not getting more hosannas from liberals.
Spare me. The country is a mess. The economy is horrendous, and millions of American families are running out of ammunition in their fight against destitution. Steadily increasing numbers of middle-class families, who never thought they’d be seeking charity, have been showing up at food pantries.
The war in Afghanistan, with its dreadful human toll and debilitating drain on the nation’s financial resources, is proceeding as poorly as ever. As The Times reported on Friday, an ambitious operation that was supposed to showcase the progress of the Afghan Army turned into a tragic, humiliating debacle.
And while schools are hemorrhaging resources because of budget meltdowns, and teachers are losing jobs, and libraries are finding it more and more difficult to remain open, American youngsters are falling further behind their peers in other developed countries in their graduation rates from colleges and universities.
This would be a good time for the Obama crowd to put aside its concern about the absence of giddiness among liberals and re-examine what it might do to improve what is fast becoming a depressing state of affairs.
It’s not just liberals who are gloomy. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe the country is on the wrong track and a majority disapproves of President Obama’s handling of the economy. Nearly two-thirds expect the economy to get worse still.
Mr. Obama’s problem — and the nation’s — is that in the midst of the terrible economic turmoil that the country was in when he took office, he did not make full employment, meaning job creation in both the short and the long term, the nation’s absolute highest priority.
Besides responding to the nation’s greatest need, job creation would have been the one issue most likely to bolster Mr. Obama’s efforts to bring people of different political persuasions together. In the early months of 2009, with job losses soaring past a half-million a month and the country desperate for bold, creative leadership, the president had an opportunity to rally the nation behind an enormous “rebuild America” effort.
Such an effort, properly conceived, would have put millions to work overhauling the nation’s infrastructure, rebuilding our ports and transportation facilities to 21st-century standards, establishing a Manhattan Project-like quest for a brave new world of clean energy, and so on.
We were going to spend staggering amounts of money in any event. There was every reason to use those enormous amounts of public dollars to leverage private capital, as well, for investment in projects and research that the country desperately needs and that would provide enormous benefits for many decades. Think of the returns the nation reaped from its investments in the interstate highway system, the Land Grant colleges, rural electrification, the Erie and Panama canals, the transcontinental railroad, the technology that led to the Internet, the Apollo program, the G.I. bill.
The problem with the U.S. economy today, as it was during the Great Depression, is the absence of sufficient demand for goods and services. Consumers, struggling with sky-high unemployment and staggering debt loads, are tapped out. The economy cannot be made healthy again, and there is no chance of doing anything substantial about budget deficits, as long as so many millions of people are left with essentially no purchasing power. Jobs are the only real answer.
President Obama missed his opportunity early last year to rally the public behind a call for shared sacrifice and a great national mission to rebuild the United States in a way that would create employment for millions and establish a gleaming new industrial platform for the great advances of the 21st century.
It would have taken fire and imagination, but the public was poised to respond to bold leadership. If the Republicans had balked, and they would have, the president had the option of taking his case to the people, as Truman did in his great underdog campaign of 1948.
During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt explained to the public the difference between wasteful spending and sound government investments. “You cannot borrow your way out of debt,” he said, “but you can invest your way into a sounder future.”
Now, with so much money already spent and Republicans expected to gain seats in the Congressional elections, the president finds himself with a much weaker hand, even if he were inclined to play it boldly.
What that will mean in the real world of ordinary Americans is that even if there is a fretful recovery from the Great Recession, millions will be left out of it. Hope has morphed into widespread gloom as widespread economic suffering becomes the new normal in America.
Bob Herbert, New York Times
Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/14/opinion/14herbert.html