Scapegoats and Excuses
Obama looks everywhere but in the mirror for America’s problems
A day after the Labor Department released the dreary jobs report for January, President Obama took to the airways in his weekly media address to consider the state of the economy and the coming battles in Congress over the nation’s looming fiscal crisis.
The president began with an understatement. “In the coming weeks, we face some important decisions about how to pay down our debt in a way that grows our economy and creates jobs – – decisions that will make a real difference in the strength and pace of our recovery.”
Important decisions, indeed. These include passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government, votes to head off draconian spending cuts embedded in the sequestration legislation passed in 2011, and the now-postponed decision on raising the national debt ceiling. It will not be pleasant, so the president is laying the political groundwork for the next four months of Capitol Hill conflict.
Obama ignored the details of the January jobs report. Instead, he delivered some in-house cheerleading about what he said was consensus that the economy is poised for growth this year. Home prices are climbing, he said, car sales are up, and manufacturing is on the rise.
While employment remains stalled, inching up slightly in January to 7.9 percent, the real story is the reduction in the overall labor force. While new jobs slowly come online, more and more able-bodied workers settle for part-time work or simply give up the job search. The economy added 157,000 jobs in January, but 169,000 workers left the labor force.
When the government counts the unemployed, the underemployed or part-time workers, and discouraged jobseekers who did not even look for a job, the real unemployment figure is 14.4 percent.
The sector breakdown of the unemployed reveals further details. Unemployment among adult men is 7.3 percent and another 7.3 percent for adult women. For African-Americans it is 13.8 percent, 9.7 percent for Hispanics and 23.4 percent for teenagers.
Nevertheless, the underlying story remains a dwindling labor force. A whopping 8.5 million workers have left the labor force since Obama took office in January 2009. While the president points to job growth, he ignores the fact that fewer and fewer Americans are working. We are losing ground.
At the same time, news just arrived of a troubling economic slowdown. The General Accounting Office reported that the nation’s economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012. This is the road to an official recession. Two consecutive quarters of contraction and we are back in the soup.
True to form, Obama said that this news is a reminder that “bad decisions” in Washington can get in the way of economic progress. This is a search for scapegoats, the usual finger pointing at others and a failure to acknowledge that many of the “bad decisions” were his – – a wasteful trillion dollar stimulus, a costly national healthcare overhaul, and thousands of expensive regulations.
The president gave his usual nod to the need to cut spending. Then he repeated the old line that we cannot cut our way to prosperity. It would weaken the economy, cost jobs, and slow the recovery, he said. Spending cuts have not worked in the past, he said, and will not work today, all the while ignoring the fact that neither he nor the Congress has ever tried it.
The president eventually reverted to one of his favorite themes, the need for a “balanced approach” to reduce the deficit and spur growth. His gives lip service to spending cuts and then calls for “investments” in education, infrastructure, and research and development. To Obama, investments mean higher taxes, this time right on the heels of the tax hikes contained in the early January vote that ended the drama of the fiscal cliff.
Obama could not resist his usual slap at those who he thinks make too much money. Any measures that lower healthcare costs or trim entitlements such as Medicare should go hand-in-hand with eliminating what he called excess spending in the tax code, “so that the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations can’t take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans.”
Along with the search for scapegoats, Obama’s cavalier reference to bad decisions in Washington is an excuse for the failed policies of his first term. For the first two years, the Democratic majority in the House and super majority in the Senate meant that the decisions belong to him.
Obama concluded his weekly address on an upbeat tone, predicting that 2013 will be a year of solid growth with more jobs and higher wages. But this will happen, he warned, only if we put a stop to “self-inflicted wounds” in Washington and focus not on politics but what is best for the country.
The president needs to take a long look in the mirror. He alone made many of those bad decisions. He is every much if not more a symbol of Washington then Congressional Republicans. The time for scapegoats and excuses is long past. It is time for leadership.
During the course of his career, Walker has worked in Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and Phoenix. He served as a reporter in Chicago, a press secretary and speechwriter in Washington, and in numerous positions in New York in corporate and financial services communications.
Walker is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.