Opinion » Ted Rall

Down and Out at 1600

What I would do if I were Obama


Throughout the presidency of Barack Obama, Americans have been preoccupied with jobs. Unemployed people need work. The underemployed need more work. The employed want salaries that go up instead of down.

The economy is the only issue that everyone cares about. In this single-issue environment, any idiot could have been a successful president. All Obama had to do was express sympathy and understanding while announcing a bunch of jobs initiatives.

But Obama has focused on everything except jobs. According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Obama's approval rating is down to 39 percent. The crappy economy--and Obama's inaction--is the cause.

"Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues," wrote Drew Westen in a New York Times op-ed.

Does he suffer a character flaw alluded to in Westen's piece, that he doesn't know who he is? I don't think so. I think eight years of George W. Bush caused Americans to make a mistake. Obama was calm, so they assumed he was wise. He is calm. But that doesn't make him smart. Let's be logical. Let's assume that appearances don't lie--that Obama doesn't lose sleep over the fact that he's presiding over a disaster that makes 9/11 look like a joke.

Let us further stipulate that Obama isn't stupid. That he's merely another cynical and/or corrupt politician. If nothing else, he ought to care about getting re-elected.

If I were in Obama's shoes, I'd hold press conferences to talk about jobs every day. I'd talk about jobs until the media was sick of it. I'd couchsurf with families who were suffering, cameras rolling as I pretended to care.

Most importantly, I'd set up next year's TV attack ads. I wouldn't let a week go by without proposing some piece of legislation related to creating jobs.

I'd send Congress huge publics-works bills to hire millions to work for federal agencies. I'd push for higher unemployment benefits, payments that don't expire until you find a job. Tax breaks for companies that hire. Tax deductions for those that give raises. Penalties for outsourcing jobs. I'd keep the Bush tax cuts, but only for the poor and middle class.

Let the Republicans kill my ideas. All the better for my 2012 ad buy.

Of course, a president can accomplish a lot by executive order. Remember how Apple had more ready cash than the U.S. Treasury? Since America obviously needs the money more than Steve Jobs, Obama could have nationalized it and given it to the states.

American voters are so defeated and disgusted that they no longer demand a president like FDR or LBJ, who fights for them. They'll settle for one who goes through the motions.

The question for Obama and his advisers is: Are they smart enough to pretend to care about the only issue that matters to voters?