So, there I was the other night, catching the last 15 minutes of Top Gun on AMC, when something that’s happening in the real world somehow dovetailed in my head (it’s been known to wander) with the climactic scene.
It came to me: for the last month or so, President Obama’s been like Maverick after Goose dies. Tom Cruise’s uber-confident Maverick becomes hesitant and unsure of himself. He’s lost his best friend and co-pilot, and calls out for help, for what to do next: “Talk to me, Goose.” (I mean, I get it: Anthony Edwards would be a great life coach.) Eventually, sweating profusely as a dogfight breaks out in his midst, he snaps out of it, and we hear, “Maverick’s re-engaging, sir!”
Now, I don’t know who Obama’s Goose is (perhaps the New Deal-toting ghost of FDR), but after a debt ceiling marathon that took it’s toll on him, it seems like we just might be seeing Obama re-engaging.
He’s a driven, smart person, who, despite sounding deliberate and in control when he speaks, has lost control of the narrative, taken jabs and blows in the last few rounds with those pesky Republicans, and had a string of tough breaks that are keeping the country from an economic jumpstart.
It seems he’s realized this. For two weeks or so we have heard that a speech is coming on jobs and growth. Near the end of his Hurricane Irene press conference on Monday, he said, “Next week, I will be laying out a series of steps that Congress can take immediately to put more money in the pockets of working families and middle-class families.” After some stupidity Wednesday around the timing of the speech, it appears to be set for Thursday, September 8th in front of a joint session of Congress. (Once again, Obama curiously passes on the Oval Office address.)
Otherwise, we really don’t know anything concrete about it. As the president said, the aim is to “make it easier for small businesses to hire people, to put construction crews to work rebuilding our nation’s roads and railways and airports, and all the other measures that can help to grow this economy.” (Plus, he is expected to attempt to weave long-term deficit reduction in there somewhere.)
For his part, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “There will be other ideas you have not heard.” Economic maneuvers, perhaps? Kind of like the bold aerial ones Maverick employs? i.e., “I’ll hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by…”
There are a dozen or more ideas being floated around, and who knows which ones will make the cut.
You can read a pretty good description of the anticipated options here. They include an effort to renovate schools, an infrastructure bank, an expansion of a successful state program in Georgia that enables workers on unemployment to train for and work towards full-time gigs at no cost to employers, and expediting of the patent process.
One thing’s for sure. He can’t just focus on payroll tax cuts. They aren’t sexy. They don’t translate well into layman’s terms. And I just nodded off while thinking about them.
Also, there’s probably only room in the speech (let alone political capital) for four or five initiatives.
In my mind, the three things to watch for will be 1) what the scope and scale of the proposals are, 2) if Obama points to specific, concrete, location-based projects that are hard for the GOP to say no to (the thought here is if they don’t work legislatively, then they can work politically), and 3) how hard the White House will work for these initiatives.
Economically, the first is most crucial. The second two are political maneuvers to an end. Obama supporters and bitter-liberals-who-will-ultimately-support-Obama-but are-saying-they’re-not-sure-now want to see some fight in the guy. Something like FDR’s public works program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
They want to get Trumanesque with a rallying cry of “Give ’em Hell, Barry!” and feel that the president actually will, even if it means some failed legislation, to make a point.
Now, any plan should “target the long-term unemployed, some 6.2 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more,” and make up 44% of the almost 14 million Americans who are out of work.
Those numbers are certainly lackluster, but not insurmountable. As context, these 14 million people mainly fall within the larger demographic of the 195 million Americans between 18-65 who are mostly employed.
For comparative purposes, it’s worth noting that during the Great Depression unemployment was much worse. In 1933, four years years after the stock market crash (so, the equivalent of next year when compared to the 2008 crash), the unemployment rate was 25%. (In Cleveland, it was 50%. 120 miles west in Toledo, it was 80%!) Further, if you didn’t work on a farm, there was a 37% chance you were jobless.
Also, despite the lore that era has taken in our national history, FDR was not popular across the board. Congress fought him tooth and nail. That’s what our current president needs to do.
Roosevelt had 12 (going on 16) years to do his best. Obama gets eight at maximum.
To come back and save his ailing presidency, and more importantly, his ailing country, he has to show new signs of life, bold action, and passionate leadership. Obama has to re-engage.