Major policy addresses are as rare in non-presidential campaign years as payphones in Manhattan. But Wednesday, President Obama braved the media obsession with the new royal baby and a childish mayoral candidate to deliver a major speech on economic policy.
Yesterday's speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., was the first in a series of speeches that the president hopes will focus Congress on the economy. You would never know it by listening to what passes for debate in D.C., but Americans are more concerned about the economy and jobs than they are about the budget and the national debt.
Last month, CBS News and the New York Times conducted a national survey and asked Americans what they thought was the most important problem facing the nation. It really wasn't much of a contest, as the survey indicated that concern about the economy and jobs overwhelmed everything else.
One in three (34 percent) Americans indicated that the economy was the biggest problem facing the United States. Concern about everything else, including the national debt (6 percent), religious values (3 percent) and big government (3 percent), was in single digits. But Washington is obsessed with the budget. This is just one of many examples of Washington's indifference to the public's concerns. Unless the president gets his way, we'll hear a lot of talk about the deficit but little discussion of jobs for the next several months.
Hopefully, Americans and members of Congress will hear what the president says and tune out wall-to-wall Weiner media and the coverage of the naming rights to the royal baby.
Wednesday, the president honed in on economic inequality. He pointed out that the economic gains in the last 10 years have mostly benefitted rich people at the expense of the middle class."This growing inequality is not just morally wrong: it's bad economics," he said. "Because when middle-class families have less to spend, guess what? Businesses have fewer consumers."
It's unlikely that the president can get the House Republican caucus to pass or even consider his proposals. The GOP majority in the U.S. House of Representatives never took a vote or even debated the merits of the American Jobs Act when President Obama submitted it to Congress in 2012. That legislation would have given tax breaks to companies that hire new employees, put unemployed Americans to work rebuilding our failing bridges and water systems and put thousands of public school teachers, police officers, firefighters and paramedics back to work.
With his economic speech, the president took his second opportunity in a week to speak from the bully pulpit. His remarks about Trayvon Martin and yesterday's speech on the economy suggest that the president has decided to speak directly to Americans. The president sees the radical Republican majority as a lost cause, but he still has faith in the American people.