On the day that Washington, DC , suffered a 5.8 earthquake, a friend sent me a telling dig from her daughter who lives in Washington concerning President Barack Obama: “Obama had wanted only a 3.4 earthquake, but the Republicans in Congress had insisted on it being 5.8; so Obama compromised.”
The nation needed a Franklin Delano Roosevelt to deal with the current economic crisis, but we got Mr. Obama instead. When FDR was ruthlessly attacked for putting people back to work during the Great Depression, he welcomed the Republicans’ wrath and enjoyed their accusing him of being a traitor to his wealthy class. In contrast, Mr. Obama has exasperated his supporters with his laid-back style and his willingness to cave-in to counter-productive demands by the Fox-Republican-TEA Party.
He was naive in believing that he could work with people who vowed to destroy him. His opponents are determined to prolong the “Great Jobs Depression” so they can defeat him in 2012, regardless of how many families are hurt in the meantime. They will agree to nothing that might work and that Obama can take credit for.
Mr. Obama may have finally had his “aha” moment. His speech before Congress on September 8 was possibly his most effective since his presidential campaign. Although his American Jobs Act is much too small, it shows he is taking some steps in the right direction. From the messy passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, he’s learned not to let Congress put together an important bill from scratch. He has made a specific proposal to Congress emphasizing the need for construction projects that repair our deteriorating and vital transportation and energy infrastructure.
He has also accepted the reality that too many voters don’t understand the obstructionist mission of the Fox-Republican-TEA Party. Mr. Obama has allowed his opponents to control the media and the debate on virtually every issue and has wasted the presidency’s most effective tool – the bully pulpit. This time he’s promised to take his case to the people, and he’s doing it. He can be a very effective spokesman for the middle class if he will stick to it.
He doesn’t like saying the same things over and over again, but his opponents have no such scruples. They will continue to repeat “tax cuts for the rich” as their only solution for the creation of jobs no matter how ineffective “trickle-down” economics has always been. In response, he must constantly make the case for more jobs to restore America’s highways, bridges, and schools.
If American voters don’t demand it, the Republican-dominated Congress will never allow the American Jobs Act to even be considered. Remember: the Republicans control the House and abuse the filibuster in the Senate, so many of the unemployed and/or in the middle class have given up hope.
Previously, Mr. Obama failed to mobilize the public in support of jobs, and he allowed his opponents to slander the original stimulus bill as “failed” while it did a lot of good and did no harm. I wonder how many citizens here in south Arkansas are aware that the SAU Tech Uptown Center, which houses the new adult education and workforce centers in Camden and the recently-opened 4-lane by-pass around El Dorado were funded by the stimulus bill. Also, El Dorado has been pleading, seemingly forever, for 4-lane access to Little Rock. How many opponents of the stimulus bill in El Dorado know that the current construction between Fordyce and Sheridan is funded by it?
Mr. Obama, who is President de jure (by election), has also decided to confront the only president that the Fox-Republican-TEA Party recognizes, President de facto Grover Norquist. Mr. Obama is now emphatically insisting that the Bush tax cuts on the well-to-do must end and that those who benefit the most from our capitalist system should pay their fair share. Mr. Norquist, however, has gotten virtually every Republican to sign his oath that they will never raise taxes no matter what the reason – thereby making public works, job creation, and eventual deficit reduction impossible.
The argument against spending programs today is the same that FDR heard during the 1930’s: (1) Government construction jobs are temporary, so we should wait and let the private investors create permanent jobs instead. (2) In the long run, people will have to start spending the money they’ve been hoarding under their mattresses. (3) Consumer demand will then lead businesses to restock and industries to expand production.
The problem then was the same as now: people didn’t have money saved that they could eventually spend. It was FDR’s advisor Harry Hopkins who tried to explain it to the Republican opposition: People need jobs in a hurry – “People don’t eat in the long run – they need to eat every day.” Those words still fall on deaf ears.
People in south Arkansas don’t need to be reminded that secure jobs in the private sector don’t exist. El Dorado poultry producers and employees of Pilgrim’s Pride definitely already know. So-called lifetime employees at International Paper in Camden learned it years ago. Recently 700 workers at Georgia-Pacific in Crossett found out. If consumer demand is down, investors are not going to increase supplies.
I see an infuriating sign twice a day on my commute to Camden: “Future I-69 Corridor.” I recall when the project was approved; I told my father that El Dorado was finally going to get a nearby interstate highway. He quickly responded, “I’ll never see it.” He died over ten years ago, and we still have no construction activity at any I-69 signs in our vicinity. If we don’t get this job-producing project going now, when will there ever be a better time? Every day we postpone is another day delayed in the long term commercial benefit that our region hopes to receive once the highway is completed.
Good jobs with good pay will provide the demand for goods and services that are required to get the private sector back into hiring and producing. As a result, government revenues on the local, state, and federal levels will also increase. Laid-off teachers and other public servants can be rehired. Many workers and retirees have had their salaries or pensions frozen and have cut back on non-essential spending because basic living expenses have continued to climb. If they get the cost-of-living increases they need to supposedly “break even,” they, too, may be able to spend again.
When Lyndon Johnson was trying to get Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he asked Martin Luther King to keep up the pressure so that he would be forced to get it done. The same is true for President Obama. The need for major public projects and millions of jobs is indisputable. Whether we get them depends entirely on whether the American people truly care. Right now, Mr. Obama is directly asking the people to put the pressure on. Will they do it?
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published October 24, 2011, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.