Labor leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus, and many liberal Democrats hope Vice President Joe Biden is wrong. In an interview on the eve of President Obama's much anticipated jobs proposals speech, Biden seemed to dash hopes that Obama will go big, and aggressive in promoting a jobs-for-all program. To them that means spending billions more on repairing and building roads, bridges, and schools, pumping up manufacturing with federal funds, arm-twisting major corporations to spend more on job creation here and not in other countries, extending unemployment insurance benefits, and continuing to pound away on the rich to cough up more in tax revenues to bankroll a sweeping jobs program.
Any other time, if he went big on jobs he'd be wildly applauded by the majority of Americans, and garner broad support from Congress. But this isn't that time. And Biden well knows the political constraints that hem in Obama. That's painfully evident with the dozens of employment creation related bills the Congressional Black Caucus has proposed. All are deep frozen in congressional committees. The Caucus members lashed out hard at Obama to do and say more about black joblessness, but Obama is powerless to do anything about their bills, which would actually do something about the Great Depression rates of unemployment in poor black communities. He's powerless for the same reason the Caucus is.
Millions of Americans chant the tea party and GOP congressional mantra that the country is hopelessly awash in red ink, and that it would be economic and fiscal suicide to spend billions more on public job creation projects. Even if Obama were willing to risk the firestorm of protest, and thumb his nose at the GOP, there's little chance that he'd get even a handful of Senate Democrats to back a massive government job creation program. This doesn't even take in the hysterical vitriol that would be hurled at him from millions more goaded by the professional Obama loathers among the pack of bloggers, web sites, and right-wing talk show hosts tea party members. They have whipped up the crowd to fervently believe that Obama's a closet socialist and his economic policies have straight jacketed private business and Wall Street. Obama's stimulus 1 package is still being relentlessly denounced by conservatives as deficit busting, wasteful, and ineffectual. They rail at it as naked big government expansion, and reckless spending by a liberal Democratic president.
But Obama's trademark caution, conciliation, and firm emphasis on bipartisanship, or simply repeating the standard call for tax cuts and more corporate giveaways, will fly squarely in the face of the demand by the Congressional Black Caucus, labor, and liberals for a bold approach on jobs. That poses a far greater political risk to him than incurring the wrath of conservatives ready to finger point him as a reckless big spending Democrat. Polls show that the three major GOP presidential candidates are either neck and neck with him, or close enough to make his reelection bid anything but a shoo-in. He will need every vote he can get from his base. But he will also need their passion, energy, and legs to get out and pound the pavement, people the phone banks and work the social media and networks as they did in 2008.
This won't happen if there's even the slightest sense among his core constituency that he fumbled the ball in being bold and assertive on his jobs proposals, and hitting back hard at the GOP for doing everything it can to stymie his proposals. The grumbles and growls of discontent and impatience that Obama has heard loudly the past few weeks could quickly turn into passivity, disinterest or even active hostility among number of the millions that he will need to hold off the GOP voter onslaught in 2012.
In 2010 the GOP took the House and a good chunk of the Senate back; Obama read the political tea leaves and concluded that it was pointless to call for more federal initiatives that require massive amounts of federal dollars. But that was then, and in the months since then, the job situation has deteriorated, the frustration of millions of job seekers has grown, and the GOP has not relented one bit in its drumbeat blame of him for the apparent crisis. This should be ample reason to take off the gloves, plop on the table a comprehensive federally driven job and stimulus program, and then when it crashes against the inevitable GOP wall rip the party for keeping millions in economic misery. This is the political game plan that the left wants and the right anticipates from Obama. Now it's up to him not to disappoint either one.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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