The Campaign Spot

‘What’s It Going to Take to Get You Into This Jobs Plan Today?’

From the Friday Morning Jolt, ending a short, weird, ominous. and dramatic week:

We Need Time to Recover From Obama’s Speech About How to Spur Economic Recovery

As Tim Williams put it, “Obama’s schtick is so tired and recycled, it’s hard to come up with fresh smart-aleck comments.”

I didn’t think this was the worst speech Obama gave. It’s not even that all of the ideas in it are all that terrible. It’s just that they’re reheated leftovers, reruns, small-ball initiatives that are likely to be as effective as every other stimulus program that repaves sidewalks or funds research on exotic ants. We’re a $14 trillion economy that makes everything from timber to jumbo jets to firearms to smart-phone apps to Hollywood movies to every food product under the sun. The notion that some grab-bag of tax credits and federal grants is going to kick-start a hiring binge to put 14 million Americans back to work, or that the economy is one tax credit for hiring veterans away from recovery, is laughable.

The recession we’ve endured for the past three years is far from normal, and yet we keep getting the normal Keynesian responses. I realize I’m about to offer blasphemies and shockers on par with Rick Perry’s Ponzi scheme comparison, but what if Obama was wrong last night and a big issue is that some of the people of this country do not, in fact, work hard to meet their responsibilities? What if decades of a lousy education system have left us with a workforce that has too many members with no really useful skills for a globalized economy? What if way too many college students majored in liberal arts and entering the workforce looking for jobs that will never exist? What if the massive housing bubble got Americans to condition themselves to work in an economy that’s never coming back? (How many realtors are unemployed right now?) What if we have good workers who can’t move to take new jobs because they’re underwater on their mortgage and can’t sell their house?

Back in January, Chrystia Freeland wrote in The Atlantic:

I heard a similar sentiment from the Taiwanese-born, 30-something CFO of a U.S. Internet company. A gentle, unpretentious man who went from public school to Harvard, he’s nonetheless not terribly sympathetic to the complaints of the American middle class. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he told me. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.”

It does sound harsh. But there’s an unnerving honest question in there: how many Americans can argue that we indisputably provide the best value as employees compared to any other group of workers in the world? Are we still the smartest? Are we still the hardest-working? Are we still the most innovative?

Instead, last night we were assured that “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires” were preventing us from “put[ting] teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs.” Sigh. As Michael Barone scored it, “Straw men took a terrible beating from the president.”

A lot of people liked this succinct Yuval Levin assessment: “Spend 450 billion dollars now, it will create jobs, and I’ll tell you how I’m going to pay for it a week from Monday. If you disagree, you want to expose kids to mercury. That about sums up the Obama years.”

It sounds like Obama hit John Tabin’s last nerve: “The millions of Americans who are watching right now: they don’t care about politics,’ said President Obama near the beginning of his speech before Congress tonight. Nice little delusion, but people who don’t care about politics weren’t watching. And the speech wasn’t for them, anyway. This was a sop to the disillusioned liberals who complain in op-eds and blog posts that Obama just needs to get more aggressive in pushing for policies that they imagine will reinvigorate the economy. Politically, it was a move to rally a base that is rather depressed at the moment, and it might work somewhat. But the spectacle of demanding an audience from Congress for such a speech was utterly absurd.”

With a serious and credible terror threat suggesting we may see attempts to use car bombs in New York or Washington on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, a massive chunk of the Southwest suddenly and mysteriously losing all electrical power, and the D.C. area hit by huge rainstorms that caused enough flooding to actually close the Beltway for a while . . . I think we’re all ready for some football.

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