Before President Obama’s much heralded jobs speech last night, NPR’s Scott Horsley called it a “Hail Mary pass.” The reason we remember Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary pass” is that it worked. Such last-ditch efforts don’t often result in touchdowns, and it’s unclear how we will remember what President Obama’s did last night.
Rhetorically, he made the most of it. Though we’ve heard most of it before, he was energized and forceful. Dare I say, leaderly? Or, as consultant Michael Goldman observed, “Who was that guy and what did they put in his cereal?”
To reinforce that the ball is in Congress’ court, he repeatedly exhorted it to “pass this bill and….,” we’ll get the benefits of extending unemployment benefits another year, “pass this bill and….,” we’ll provide tax cuts to companies hiring workers, generate credits to companies hiring veterans (even John Boehner applauded that one). The rhetorical device, and urging the people to reach out to their Congressmen, was effective …if people were listening.
Obama was also compelling in evoking the vision of an America that used to be, a nation that is tough and capable of meeting any challenge. He showed “the audacity of hope.”
On the other side, the President was somewhat slithery in his promise that the new jobs proposed in transportation and education “will be paid for.” He wants the $447 billion price tag incorporated into the mission of the 12-member “super committee” tasked with coming up with a deficit reduction plan by Thanksgiving. Obama will submit his proposal to that committee next week, but honk if you’re confident the committee will achieve what needs to be done.
The President kept intoning that many, if not most, of the strategies he is calling for have, in the past, had bipartisan support. Maybe then, but this is now. On this the Republicans were stone-faced. While we outside the beltway may agree that it is long past time to “stop the political circus,” it was chilling, but predictable, to see the Republicans sit on their hands when he spoke of traditional bipartisan support for such proposals or when he said “it’s time for us to meet our responsibilities.”
Obama did his best to create a sense of urgency. He reminded listeners that “the next election is 14 months away. The people who sent us here don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months.” With that line, everyone applauded.
According to the Wall St. Journal, Moody’s chief economist says the plan would add two points to GDP growth, add nearly 2 million jobs and reduce unemployment by a point. But Republicans are dead set against a new stimulus package, despite the nation’s flat job growth and even the desperate need for infrastructure repair. And they’re unlikely to support raising revenue by closing tax loopholes.
Some Democrats and independent economists believe the last stimulus wasn’t big enough, and without it things would have been much worse. But, it’s hard to prove a negative, and, in recent months more Americans have come to doubt the stimulus was the right approach.
With even lower public confidence today, it’s unclear to what extent this approach will get some traction. If it doesn’t, Obama may have used an unusual forum to kick off his 2012 reelection campaign, mimicking Harry Truman’s 1948 successful run against a “do nothing Congress.” Many of us have partisan conflict fatigue and want fresh faces and fresh ideas. But there’s work to be done now. Meeting the challenge is hard, and the question remains as to whether the politicians are up to the task.
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