Bob Herbert, unlike most pundits, understands that policies don’t count unless they improve people’s lives in a way they can see:
The Obama administration feels it should get a great deal of credit for its economic stimulus efforts, its health care initiative, its financial reform legislation, its vastly increased aid to education and so forth. And maybe if we were grading papers, there would be a fair number of decent marks to be handed out.
But Americans struggling in a down economy are worried about the survival of their families. Destitution is beckoning for those whose unemployment benefits are running out, and that crowd of long-term jobless men and women is expanding rapidly.
There is a widespread feeling that only the rich and well-placed can count on Washington’s help, and that toxic sentiment is spreading like the oil stain in the gulf, with ominous implications for President Obama and his party. It’s in this atmosphere that support for the president and his agenda is sinking like a stone.
Employment is the No. 1 issue for most ordinary Americans. Their anxiety on this front only grows as they watch teachers, firefighters and police officers lining up to walk the unemployment plank as state and local governments wrestle with horrendous budget deficits.
And what do these worried Americans see the Obama administration doing? It’s doubling down on the war in Afghanistan, trying somehow to build a nation from scratch in the chaos of a combat zone.
By nearly 2 to 1, respondents to the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll believed the United States is on the wrong track. Despite the yelping and destructive machinations of the deficit hawks, employment and the economy are by far the public’s biggest concern. Mr. Obama is paying dearly for his tin ear on this topic. Fifty-four percent of respondents believed he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs. Only 45 percent approved of his overall handling of the economy, compared with 48 percent who disapproved.
It’s not too late for the president to turn things around, but there is no indication that he has any plan or strategy for doing it. And the political environment right now, with confidence in the administration waning and budgetary fears unnecessarily heightened by the deficit hawks, is not good.
It would take an extraordinary exercise in leadership to rally the country behind a full-bore jobs-creation campaign — nothing short of large-scale nation-building on the home front. Maybe that’s impossible in the current environment. But that’s what the country needs.