Let's start with a thought experiment.
Think about the pitched battles President Obama has faced trying to pass his healthcare reform and climate change agenda through Congress this year.
Now imagine how different those struggles might have been if they came to pass as the massive unemployment rate began to fall, instead of as they have during a time when joblessness rose to record levels not seen in decades.
In reality, the difference is unknowable and entirely hypothetical. But it's logical to conclude that the president would have had an easier time enacting his reforms if the deep economic fears in the country were being soothed by news more Americans were going back to work.
To be sure, this is not to say Obama would have gotten a free ride. But there's been evidence to suggest that the intensity of the opposition to the president and his policies has been driven by a heightened sense of generalized anxiety and doubt brought on by the uncertainty people have for their livelihoods.
Some 55 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of the jobs issue, according to a recent USA Today poll. Polls also rank jobs and the economy as the top issues for Americans — not healthcare or climate change.
That creates a perception that Obama's out-of-step with ordinary Americans.
"There's a general sense in the population that the politicians have not paid enough attention to this issue. They've taken care of the banks. But what about Main Street?" Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, is quoted as saying.
Obama must become the jobs president. Obama needs to focus on that "like a laser beam" on jobs, to borrow a phrase from the last Democrat in the White House.
A look back at Bill Clinton's presidency is instructive. Like Obama, Clinton struggled along with the economy he inherited. Then jobs came back, Clinton presided over the longest peace-time economic expansion in history, and his personal approval grew accordingly — so much so that he maintained popularity even during his Impeachment.
Thursday's White House jobs summit must be the start, not the end, of Obama's jobs agenda.
If Obama focuses much more heavily on job-creation, he, too will do well while doing good. Democrats fret openly about going into the 2010 election saddled by such a bad economy. Then there is the little matter of Obama's own re-election two years later.
Some estimates put unemployment that year still at a quite-high 6.8 percent to 7.5 percent. Those aren't good numbers to campaign on.
The White House needs to start talking, and delivering, nearly every day on providing millions of Americans the good-paying jobs they need.
The Oval Office may not become a career-placement center, but it's got to come darn close to take dramatic action to push down that soaring unemployment rate.
Concentrating so intensely on the employment crisis might disrupt Obama's own idea about his agenda, but it will buy him goodwill and calm the background anxiety that ultimately will allow for a smoother time for all of the rest of the reforms he intends. Jobs will beget votes, and he will have an entire second term to devote to his other causes.Powered by Sidelines