2012 and the jobs imperative

So much for President Barack Obama’s approval-rating bump that he received after ordering the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Granted, it’s still early in the 2012 race, and the Republican presidential candidate is anything but decided, with a field that wavers more than Sarah Palin’s on-the-fly bus tour. But recent polls and presidential campaign history suggest Obama’s re-election is far from assured.

There is reason to worry. The number one issue that is a drag on the president’s re-election chances is the economy. To be more specific: jobs.

The New York Times recently said, “No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent.” Official unemployment has now topped 9.1 percent.

At a time when bold solutions are necessary for capitalism’s crisis of joblessness, home foreclosures, low wages, high gas prices and a staggering wealth gap, White House proposals have been meek and mild.

Political gurus would say — and perhaps rightly so — that the political balance of forces in Congress prohibited a bigger stimulus, or a second stimulus. But that is only a part of the story. Perhaps a bolder approach would have stimulated the economy and changed the political atmosphere.

After the “shellacking” the Democrats got in the 2010 elections, the president seemed to go after the jobs problem with renewed vigor. Unfortunately, the focus seemed to be solely on building relationships with corporate America and showcasing innovative small businesses. Given that the country needs to create 150,000 – 200,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with the population entering the workforce, that focus was not enough.

The anemic May jobs report seemed to make one thing clear: Trying to cajole corporations to spend some of the trillions they are sitting on to create jobs isn’t working. They would rather invest in “labor-saving” technology, which is better for their bottom line.

Meanwhile, the tea party Republicans have managed to shift political talking points to deficit reduction, instead of what economists say is the central issue: job creation.

The president has said he excels at “getting people in a room with a bunch of different ideas who sometimes violently disagree with each other and finding common ground and a sense of common direction.” But he faces finding “common ground” with a bunch of infanticidal maniacs who want to cut government in order to “drown the baby in the bathtub.”

Working on common ground with that crowd is not a recipe for holding the White House in 2012. Instead, Obama needs to include in finding “common ground” the proposals in the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus budgets, which boldly provide for jobs by investing in the nation’s infrastructure, in vital areas like pre-K through higher education and building a clean energy economy.

The president does have elements of these investments in his budget, coupling them with modest cuts in military spending and more draconian cuts in programs that serve low-income people.

It’s good to hear him stand firm on refusing to allow any more extensions for the Bush-era tax breaks for the super-wealthy. More tax revenue from those who can afford – and have an obligation – to pay it means less cuts to vital programs that serve – and employ – people.

Yet, a bolder plan than that is needed.

Why not explain to the American people that the immediate solution to the economic insecurity lies in job creation with government investment, not in cutting deficits?

Worried about the sluggish economy, a growing section in ruling circles is agreeing with liberal economists like Paul Krugman that slashing spending will be the death knell of any kind of recovery.

“[S]pending less when households are in no shape to pick up the slack seems a sure-fire way to keep an anaemic recovery off-color,” writes The Economist.

The president could make the case to the American people even better than that. And in return, Americans will re-elect a bold leader.

Without such a shift in priorities from deficit reduction to job creation, the road to re-election gets exponentially more difficult.

Photo: John Bachtell/PW


Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano has been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and to Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women and Illinois Woman Press Association.