President Obama will give yet another major speech this Thursday night. He’ll speak in broad platitudes and intone about the seriousness of our predicament. He will emphasize the necessity of working together. He will, of course, offer way too little in the way of specifics, but whatever it is will have a huge price tag. And his speech will come a cropper, die aborning, stumble out of the gate, take a dirt nap. Pick your metaphor. The speech will go the way of all of his other featured addresses, which is to say, precisely nowhere. Why? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote, “let me count the ways” or at least the three main ones.
First, Obama talks too much. He’s a man of big words and small deeds, long on rhetoric and short on results. In fact, his administration has produced no sustained economic growth in its existence. We’ve heard the reasons for this failure repeatedly and the only thing that changes is the length of the list. It grows. And grows. Bush, the evils inherent in the American financial industry, the Tea Party, the Republican House majority, the Tea Party, the tsunami in Japan. But, when the smoke is blown away, what remains is what Obama has actually done. And it is a pitifully small pile of inconsequential, albeit costly, programs.
Lest we forget, the Republican congressional majority has existed for only the last eight months – only twenty-five percent of Obama’s time in office. For the first 24 months, he had his way with Congress, to the point of losing control of the House in the 2010 elections. What were the president’s economic accomplishments during that two year period? Absolutely nothing that had a sustainable impact. Much of what he did had no impact at all.
The futility of the administration’s efforts to jump start the economy is not limited to embarrassing hype programs like Cash for Clunkers. A much more telling example is Obama’s efforts to resurrect the housing market, the other elephant in the room that he mostly ignores. There was HAMP, 2MP, HAFA, PRA, HAUP and several others. Despite those efforts, and the billon$ they cost, the housing market is now in a double-dip recession. You could argue successfully that it never arose from the first one. But, economists agree that, if it did, it fell into the second one last May. So much for the power of acronyms over actions.
Second, with his majority in the House a thing of the past, Obama must compromise to move the country forward. But, he either misunderstands compromise or simply can’t bring himself to engage in it. That’s really a coin toss. Compromise is not in his nature. For example, he is advertising his Thursday night speech, with its first word yet to be heard, as “bipartisan”. This billing could simply be political, as in everything the president says is bipartisan and therefore anyone who disagrees with him is necessarily partisan.
Or, as likely, Obama believes that if he moves away from any part of his original agenda, he is being bipartisan. But, this belief, of course, ignores the meaning of the word. Bipartisan means of, relating to or involving representatives of two different parties. Unless you suffer from a mental disorder like schizophrenia, you can’t be bipartisan all by yourself. The president needs to come to grips with this fact and stop listening to the little voices both in his head and in his administration. He actually has to involve Republicans in defining solutions. Simply making unilateral pronouncements and daring his opponents not to accept them isn’t bipartisanship. But, it is a strategy for failure.
Third, making a significant, and sustainable, reduction in the unemployment rate is beyond Obama’s capabilities and those of his hand-picked advisors. This reason is the crux of the problem with all of his speechifying. He’s not very good at politics, but he’s even worse at problem solving. To gain acceptance of his ideas, he preys on people’s fears, distorts opposing viewpoints and protects sacred cows beyond our ability to support them. None of this will fix our unemployment quandary.
Joblessness cannot be dealt with in the vast vacuum of political posturing. The unemployment rate will come down when the economy recovers and not before, at least not in a lasting way. Getting the economy on track means taking strong actions. We are way past short-term fixes for political advantage. We need: (a) tax reform including, among other things, incentives to business, (b) repeal of much of the costly, burdensome business regulations put in place since 2009, and (c) a serious commitment to deficit reduction, which requires effective entitlement reform. These actions create the stable environment that businesses need in order to recover and begin hiring in earnest again.
The good news for Obama is that if he can get those things done, he can also get re-elected. But, as long as his speeches are major and his actions minor, he doesn’t stand a chance. And that’s good news for everyone else.
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