President Obama has always been too scattered and unfocused when it comes to addressing the primary social, economic and political challenge of his presidency: high unemployment.
But he is starting to “get it,” as is evidenced by a series of job creation proposals the White House released Tuesday. It is especially significant that he has picked up on the calls by labor unions and grassroots groups for using at least some of the $200 billion in left over Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money to encourage small businesses to expand and to promote hiring.
Obama is not going as far as the unions have asked. He reportedly plans to use $20 billion and $40 billion in unused bailout funds to free up lending to small businesses and perhaps another $30 billion for tax credits designed to encourage the hiring of new workers.
That’s an encouraging, if still tepid, intervention.
What’s encouraging is that the president is beginning to link his happy talk about the economy to practical initiatives.
Until recently, Obama took most of his advice regarding unemployment concerns from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and National Economic Council director Larry Summers, who are about as in touch with the real economy as Marie Antoinette was with the hungry citizens of 18th century Paris. As such, the president kept talking about how things were getting better even as the unemployment rate hit the highest levels in a quarter century – and the real unemployment rate (factoring in those who have given up looking for work and those who the underemployed) compares with Depression-era numbers.
A series of wake-up calls culminating in the confirmation that the country was experiencing double-digit unemployment for the first time since Ronald Reagan’s first term got Obama listening to key members of Congress and the more serious members of his Cabinet, such as Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and, frankly, political aides who are terrified by the prospect of trying to convince voters in the 2010 congressional contests that they should feel good about an economy where one in every ten Americans is jobless.