The simplest way to judge the success of President Obama’s jobs speech on Thursday evening is also the best way.
As you watch the president address a joint session of Congress, shove aside political strategy and policy wonkery and ask yourself two questions: Is Obama spelling out a compelling diagnosis of what’s ailing growth and job creation? Is he offering a comprehensive plan to treat those problems?
Those are deceptively basic questions that Obama, amazingly enough, has not fully addressed since economic indicators started flashing warning signs this summer that the U.S. was sliding back toward recession.
For much of the year, the president and his economic team insisted that the recovery was gaining steam, so much so that it didn’t need another big boost from the federal government. They persisted in that belief even as Middle East unrest sent gasoline prices skyward, as Japan’s tsunami disrupted global supply chains, and as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis flared up again with a vengeance.
It wasn’t until last month that the administration amended its assessment after a batch of ugly economic indicators (the worst being anemic gross domestic product for the first half of 2011) intensified fears over Europe and a to-the-brink battle to raise the federal borrowing limit sent financial markets into a tizzy. Obama made plans for Thursday’s speech and promised a bold new dose of job-creation prescriptions.
But the president still hasn’t come close to explaining to voters why he thinks the recovery faltered and what the government can do to get it back on track.
“Our great ongoing challenge as a nation remains how to get this economy growing faster,” Obama said last week when he named Princeton University economist Alan Krueger to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “Our challenge is to create a climate where more businesses can post job listings, where folks can find good work that relieves the financial burden they’re feeling, where families can regain a sense of economic security in their lives.”
That’s hardly a diagnosis. And without one, it’s almost impossible to consider any jobs proposal seriously.
Republicans have offered their own analysis and solutions, quite vocally, for more than a year—excess federal spending is restraining private-sector growth. Cut spending and jobs will spring up. A pair of budget-cutting bills later, job growth remains stalled, and House GOP leaders are quietly shifting their criticism from “job-crippling” spending to “job-destroying” federal regulation.
Thursday’s speech offers Obama his best opportunity to sketch a competing philosophy, tell Americans why the economy so stubbornly refuses to fly clear of the last recession, and expound on his plans to avoid a double-dip. If he can’t deliver on both counts, the details of his plans will hardly matter, politically or economically.
This article appears in the September 8, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.