Obama Needs a Serious Jobs Agenda

Obama will be a one-term president unless he steps up on jobs.

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There's a phrase the Wordmeister-in-Chief should use more often. The first word is J-O-B-S, plural, followed by an action word: agenda, program, plan or even creation. President Obama still seems reluctant to confront the plague of his presidency: joblessness. Extending unemployment benefits or the payroll tax cut don't cut it as a serious jobs agenda.

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, for one, is doing just the opposite, pitching voters with "a one-word vocabulary. All he says is 'jobs,'" Democratic strategist Tad Devine told The Washington Post. Devine, a strategist for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, added that Romney has "really cleaned up his act." If a Republican challenger can seize that FDR/New Deal ground from a Democratic president, then the irony will run rich indeed. [Read more about the 2012 presidential election.]

Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vincent Lombardi would say it this way: "Jobs are not everything. Jobs are the only thing." That's the kind of urgency I'm talking about. However, a visceral concern is not forthcoming from Obama nor his team of economic advisers.

Obama mentioned "jobs" about a dozen times this month in speeches and remarks, but his gifts as an orator seem silenced on this topic.

With unemployment chronically hovering around nine percent, Obama vaguely talks about getting America back to work or back on "the job," the part where his voice trails off. He might add our infrastructure, much of it built during the Depression, a lifetime ago, needs to be shored up. He might say standards were poor when the government's credit rating was downgraded after a bad debt deal with Republicans, and he might be right. But the American people want to hear what exactly he is doing back in Washington to make the economy grow like a garden. [See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

The people are not getting that message from Obama in a no-nonsense, vigorous voice.

More to the point, what's he doing to get businesses sitting on cash back in the business of hiring workers? Will the government sector invest and expand to hire people of all ages and talents who are leading lives of quiet desperation and isolation? Anxiety about making ends meet—among the employed as well as the unemployed—is palpable. It's catching, like the plague. 

Wait a moment, did I just say that about the cool, elegant president who puts a lot of effort into maintaining that pose? I beg my pardon. Just another one who fell under his lyrical spell. Before a vote was cast in Iowa, I was the one who wrote a piece saying he was poetry, she was prose—meaning the linear, logical and lawyerly Hillary Clinton, his chief rival in 2008. Actually I voted for Hillary in the primary when it came down to it, but I was a believer in Barack. So many millions of us were, especially the hundreds of thousands who flooded Chicago and Washington with euphoria when he was elected and inaugurated as president. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

We were all wooed by beautiful words, thrilled at the thought of having a president who made the English language soar after George W. Bush's Texasyntax. Then on a frigid January, 2009 day, the poet spoke in prose, rather grim prose, to a battered nation. Facing two wars and a recession, Obama's inspirational art form seemed to lose something in the translation—from campaigning to governing—from the very first day.

Administration officials have told me Obama rejected an ambitious jobs strategy from the start. He didn't see the plague coming or he didn't try to stop it. Either way, he lost his best chance to show compassion, courage and capability in a crisis on the home front—historically Democratic traits in the party's finest hours. [See the top 10 cities to find a job.]

A word of advice to a president who will face voters in 2012: while hanging out on the Vineyard, remember J-O-B-S are the only thing back on the mainland, sir.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.
  • See a slide show of who's in and out for the GOP in 2012.
  • Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?