It was billed as a listening tour–a three-state journey across the Midwest where President Barack Obama could hear directly from Americans about the economy and talk about his ideas for job growth. Instead, though, it had the characteristics of a political campaign swing, and the rhetoric the President brought along for the ride was marked by a desperate effort to blame someone other than himself for America’s economic woes.
The President’s tour began in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, where in one breath he pointed his finger at Washington’s broken politics and in the next he blamed “a string of bad luck … a bunch of things taking place over the last six months that were not within our control.”
You had an Arab Spring in the Middle East that promises more democracy and more human rights for people, but it also drove up gas prices — tough for the economy, a lot of uncertainty. And then you have the situation in Europe, where they’re dealing with all sorts of debt challenges, and that washes up on our shores. And you had a tsunami in Japan, and that broke supply chains and created difficulties for the economy all across the globe.
As much as the President would like to bill his three-state tour as an exhibition in listening or leadership, it’s more of an exercise in cognitive dissonance—of blaming everything but his own policies for the reality of America’s dire economic straits, rather than taking responsibility for his presidency.
That reality has manifested itself in a big way. In every state, a vast majority of Americans see the economy as getting worse, according to a new Gallup poll. The only exception is in Washington, D.C., where taxpayer spending has feathered the nest of the federal government, creating a cushion from the harsh existence of 9.1 percent unemployment, an average duration of unemployment hitting a record high of 40 weeks, and a tepid pace of economic growth that could leave joblessness at permanently high levels. Contrast Obama’s results with the promise of his presidency, as articulated in his inaugural address:
The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift. And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.
Lest America forget, President Obama had two years of a Democrat-controlled Congress to effect that bold and swift action. And boy, did he take action. He and his liberal allies in the House and Senate gave America a $780 billion stimulus that the President promised would save or create 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010. (He came up 7.3 million jobs shy.) And then there was the 2,700-page behemoth known as Obamacare, the 9,000-Earmark Omnibus Bill, $3.22 trillion in new debt, a $26.1 billion government union bailout in the summer of 2010, the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform bill.
Somehow, though, all that action was not enough. So in January, the President used his State of the Union Address to convey to America that he was singularly focused on job creation. And here America sits, seven months later, watching President Obama tour the Midwest delivering that same message, this time calling for piecemeal job creation policies including more stimulus and infrastructure spending, a renewal of the payroll tax cut that was initially passed in December last year, tax credits for companies who hire veterans, a trade deal that he fails to send to Congress yet blames them for not passing, and tax increases on job creators. Though the President calls his ideas new and bold, he’s only delivering more of the same tired thinking that has left America in an economic rut.
On top of the spending and debt, the President has promulgated stifling regulation while calling for job-killing tax increases. Meanwhile, his Administration is going out of its way to work against job creation—the National Labor Relations Board has taken action against the Boeing Company for creating jobs in right-to-work South Carolina while also pushing for pro-union policies that harm employers and workers.
Fortunately, the President’s way is not the only way. Rather than going back to the Keynesian well and relying on the hand of government, the President and Congress should restrain government and allow entrepreneurs to thrive. That doesn’t require a listening tour and placing blame. That requires being a leader and recognizing that the policies of the past two and a half years have not worked—that it’s time for a new way, and a new speech.