Can the president really be as out of touch as he seems?
At last week's press conference, President Obama tried to dismiss a question about regulations strangling job growth by asserting that "the private sector is doing fine." There are those, including the 8.2 percent of Americans looking for a job who can't find one and the millions more who are no longer counted in the figures because they have given up looking for work, who would disagree.
The microphones in the White House press room didn't have time to cool down before administration and campaign officials were working on the spin, explaining that the president didn't really mean what he had just said.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, echoed the thoughts of many when he called Obama's observation "a real insult to the over 23 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed and struggling to make ends meet."
"If an 8.2 percent unemployment rate and 40 consecutive months of an above 8 percent unemployment rate is 'doing fine,' then I don't want to know his definition of an economy that is doing poorly," Thune said.
Indeed, it really is that simple. For more than three years—40 consecutive months—and despite the promises made during the stimulus debate, U.S. unemployment has been north of 8 percent. The number of people who are counted as "long-term unemployed" has doubled. The private sector is not creating jobs. Demand for goods and services is down, largely because people either cannot afford them or are afraid to make major purchases because they are not confident in their personal economic future. There is a problem out there and the president either can't see it or doesn't want to acknowledge what is clear to almost everyone else.
What he does see, apparently, is a crisis in the public sector—whose employees make up a critical part of his electoral base. After decades of "sweetheart deals" providing generous pay and benefits that cannot be found in the private economy, of funding programs over and over again that may not work—and without really caring if they do—and imposing a regime of job-killing regulations that choke off economic growth, federal, state, and local governments can no longer afford to do everything they promised to do. To Obama, this is the real crisis, but it's one to which most Americans can't relate, which may explain why former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is now running even with the president in many national polls.
The American people are no longer so much interested in who is to blame for the current crisis than they are in finding a leader who will show us all the way out. Obama has had three years to put a plan together but he spends more time blaming the Republicans and the previous administration for the problems than he does advocating solutions. He's trapped in a meme that may have worked in 2008 but isn't getting the job done for 2012. He can't turn back the clock; he needs to get in touch.