Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work. Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work. Pass this job bill, and we'll cure cancer, sprout wings, and fly.
OK, that last quote wasn't really Obama's. But the first two promises—and many more poll-tested pledges—adorned his address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. It was a reelection campaign speech that may go a long way toward convincing dubious voters that Obama "gets it"—that he understands how tough life is for middle-class and unemployed Americans.
First, the president opened with an I-feel-your-pain homage that echoed former President Clinton's 1992 campaign against George H.W. Bush, a one-term president saddled with the impression that he lacked empathy. Second, Obama offered a creative collection of economic ideas—none of them blockbuster—that were better targeted economically and politically than his 2009 stimulus plan.
From National Journal:
PICTURES: Obama Addresses Congress on Jobs
Obama’s Jobs Plan: Timely, Targeted, but Incomplete
Bachmann Blasts Obama Speech She (Mostly) Missed
VIDEO: Officials Reflect on Hunt for bin Laden
Is $300 Billion Enough for Jobs?
His package, a $447 billion mix of tax cuts and spending, is not as big or bold as his liberal allies wanted. It's not even quite what Obama's own economic advisers believe is necessary to put more than a modest dent in the 9 percent unemployment rate.
(RELATED: Text of Obama's Speech)
But it's something; it would help the unemployed. And it's big and bold as a political statement: Obama is daring Republicans to fight a package that is loaded with tangible benefits for specific constituencies, that includes measures once backed by the GOP and that would have a do-nothing Washington doing something, anything, about jobs.
Go ahead, he dared Republicans, make me be the reasonable one.
(RELATED: Obama to Congress: Pass This Bill)
"The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning," Obama said.
He wants voters to see him as the ringmaster at the circus. Or at least not as another clown.
A Washington Post poll in August found that 78 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country's political system is working, and almost as many have little or no confidence that Washington can solve the country's economic problems.
They're not too happy with their president's performance, either. A Washington Post/ABC News poll published this week found that 60 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way Obama has managed the economy and that only 43 percent approve of the job he is doing overall.
He needs to turn things around.
Obama never mentioned the cost of the package—perhaps knowing that he'll be lucky to win passage of anything close to the $447 billion total—but went into agonizing detail about who might benefit from the plan. Teachers, cops, veterans, school children, small-business men and many more were name-dropped by Obama with the refrain: "Pass this bill and ..." somebody cool will get or make a job.
In case they missed the point in Ohio and Kentucky, the home states of the GOP congressional leaders, Obama promised to fix a bridge that spans the two states.
And yet Obama said Americans don't care about politics. "They have real-life concerns. Many have spent months looking for work. Others are doing their best just to scrape by—giving up nights out with the family to save on gas or make the mortgage, postponing retirement to send a kid to college."
Channeling his inner Clinton, Obama added that Americans were raised to believe they and their children would get ahead if they work hard and play by the rules. "But for decades now, Americans have watched that compact erode. They have seen the deck too often stacked against them. And they know that Washington hasn't always put their interests first."
(RELATED: Jobs Speech by the Numbers)
Obama coupled his pleas for action with a call to the 12-member super committee set up by last month’s debt deal to come up with additional spending cuts to pay for the measures in his "American Jobs Act," which includes $253 billion in tax cuts and $194 billion in spending.
The tax cuts include $175 billion for an extension of last year’s reduction in the employee payroll tax; $65 billion to cut employer payroll taxes in half and $5 billion for a bonus payroll tax cut for new hires. Under his proposal, taxes would be halved on the first $5 million in wages, which the White House said would benefit 98 percent of all businesses.
The new spending would include tax credits for companies hiring veterans, aid to state and local governments to prevent the layoffs of police, firefighters, and up to 280,000 teachers, the modernization of 35,000 public schools, and a $10 billion infrastructure bank to help modernize roads, bridges, railroads, and airports.
The White House insisted that most of the elements of the package have previously been supported by many Republicans and hence are bipartisan. The GOP congressional leadership, however, complained even before Obama spoke that they had not been consulted prior to the speech, which many of them saw as designed primarily to save one job: the president’s.
Of course, Obama wants to save his job. So do GOP lawmakers. Trouble is, voters think they're all clowns.