As a pundit, it's my job to explain why politicians do what they do. Every now and then, however, a pol behaves so irrationally that I have to ask: What the hell is this guy thinking?
That's what President Barack Obama has me doing. Why isn't he worried about unemployment?
Americans vote their pocketbooks. No president has ever been re-elected with an unemployment rate over 7.2 percent. Right now, it's 9.1 percent.
Economists surveyed by USA Today predict that the jobless rate will be pretty much the same, 8.8 percent, at this time next year. Goldman Sachs is more pessimistic: 9.25 percent by the end of 2012--with a "meaningful downside risk" that it will be even worse.
Polls indicate that economic insecurity, specifically high unemployment, has been the biggest issue on voters' minds since Obama took office. Seventy-seven percent of Americans tell Gallup the economy is getting worse. That's up from 62 percent a month ago.
If Obama wants to get re-elected, he has to do something about jobs. But he hasn't done squat so far. And his job approval rating, now at an all-time low of 39 percent, reflects that.
I don't like admitting this, but I'm mystified. Why isn't Obama even trying to look like he cares about the one issue that could make or break his re-election chances?
"Government doesn't create jobs," tweeted GOP candidate Herman Cain recently. "Businesses create jobs. Government needs to get out the way."
Obama and his fellow fake Democrats never challenge this right-wing framing. Maybe they believe it. "The White House doesn't create jobs," Obama press secretary Jay Carney said Aug. 5.
In the real world where flesh-and-blood American workers have been living since 2000, businesses haven't created any jobs. Instead they've eliminated millions of them. And shipped millions more overseas.
Those job-killing trends--eliminating workers, increased automation and globalization--won't change soon. "Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people," Catherine Rampell recently reported for The New York Times.
There's also a death-spiral effect. Alana Semuels of The Los Angeles Times sums it up: "Economists say the nation is stuck in a Catch-22 scenario: The economy won't improve until businesses hire, but many won't hire without consumer demand, which is weak because of the current state of the job market and concerns about the future."
On the other hand, government can and does create jobs. Indirectly it creates the veneer of law and order that permits commerce. Government can also employ people directly.
FDR orchestrated the direct hiring of 9 million Americans as government employees for the WPA and other programs. The federal government even hired writers and artists. Adjusted for population growth, that's the same as 22 million people today. Obama could have done something like that in early 2009.
As you read this, Obama is off to Martha's Vineyard, hanging out with millionaires.
Really--what's going on? Can Obama really be that stupid? Can anyone?