The Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and some of their lead in the Senate, as was expected. The reasons for the shift were obvious before the election. As has been true throughout much of recent American history, people voted their pocket books and not their belief in whether health care and financial reforms, critical to the President’s agenda, will work.
Obama must get on the same bus that he used for the 2008 campaign and tour the country, perhaps endlessly, to address what he did not address over the two years since he was elected. People want jobs and job security. The benefits of health care and financial reforms are abstract to most voters. Obama can allow old hands like Defense Secretar Bill Gates to run critical parts of the government. Obama needs to get out of Washington and stay out for a while.
Obama’s strategic mistakes were tremendous. He believed that voters cared more about dishonest banks than their unemployed neighbors or family members. The jobless problem has worsened as more than a million Americans have reached the limit of their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. The lame duck Congress may not be inclined to extend those when the issue next comes up for a vote later this month. Benefits for millions of unemployed people can costs tens of billions of dollars. Many politicians will want to avoid adding to the deficit as a part of their legacies.
Obama may be able to do very little about unemployment through legislation. He will have to try to convince businesses to add employees even if they are afraid to do so. He will have to sell an American recovery which is not apparent now. He will have to persuade the largest US companies and the smallest that hiring even a few people will be worth the risk.
It is a hard sell, but may work, even though Obama cannot promise government aid to companies which add jobs. He can travel from state to state and cheerlead for an economic recovery in 2011.
There still is an advantage to being President, even if legislative support for programs he held dear may disappear. The President can hold out the hope that American business can save itself through its own optimism, an optimism based on a handshake and some encouragement.
American business does not believe in itself now. It believes the recession is too deep and does not want to do much but hunker down. Firms usually hire as a recovery has begun, but that has not happened yet. Obama has to make an inspired case that lower unemployment will pull the US economy up by its boot straps.
It is time to get on the bus again to sell the recovery. After coming into office, the Administration pushed through programs that may at some point help financial services consumers and those who need health care. But, that future may be years away, and Americans don’t want to wait that long.
Douglas A. McIntyre