Bill Clinton saw it clearly when he was running for President against Bush I. It became his mantra: "It's the economy, stupid."
Clinton wanted to reform health insurance too. But he understood that during a recession, the first priority is jobs.
Politicians and commentators continue to blather obtusely about the meaning of Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley's loss to a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. Like Coakley and her advisors, they've failed to see the obvious, failed to learn from Clinton's victory:
It's the economy, stupid.
Poll results show that Massachusetts voters punished Coakley - and Democrats -- for neglecting the issue most vital to them: jobs. If politicians had studied earlier polls or attempted to actually get in touch with mainstream, Main Street Americans, or just listened to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's Jan. 11 address at the Washington Press Club, they'd have known to focus on jobs. The message of Massachusetts should be clear: If Democrats want to save their own jobs in the mid-term elections this fall, they must create jobs now.
A poll taken as far back as the first week in December exposed voters' anger over the economy. The bipartisan Battleground Poll showed this: A huge majority of those surveyed ranked improving the economy and jobs as the most important tasks for Congress. It was 40 percent, compared to healthcare reform, at just 15 percent.
Here's what pollster Celinda Lake said about the results:
"The number one thing Democrats have to do is prove they really have a jobs program and an economic program that is going to sell on Main Street."
That was a month before the Massachusetts vote. In the meantime, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced unemployment numbers for December - and they were worse in 43 states than they had been in November. Joblessness in Michigan, a high population heartland state, was the highest in the country at 14.6 percent. Only the rates in two other states, Rhode Island - 12.9 percent -- and South Carolina -- 12.6 percent, beat that in one of the dozen largest economies in the world - California. There it was 12.4, significantly higher than the U.S. average of 10 percent.
People are hurting. Pay attention, politicians. Pay attention.
They didn't. In the Massachusetts race, they were talking about terrorism and baseball.
In a Research 2000 poll done for MoveOn.org, 95 percent of Massachusetts residents surveyed ranked the economy as either important or very important to their candidate choice. Research 2000 questioned 1,000 registered voters - half of whom voted for Republican Scott Brown and half of whom did not vote at all.
Among those who voted for Obama in 2008 but Brown in 2010, 51 percent said they believed Democratic policies helped Wall Street more than Main Street.
It's the economy, stupid. The Main Street economy.
Similary, in a Hart Research Associates poll conducted on election night in Massachusetts, 79 percent of voters said electing a candidate who would strengthen the economy and create more good jobs was the single most important factor in their decision. The most crucial quality for a candidate, they said: Someone who would fix the economy.
The Bush II Great Recession is more than two years old now. Workers are frightened and angry. They see bailouts for Wall Street, big bonuses for bankers and unemployment continuing to rise.
They will vent their frustration on politicians. Massachusetts showed it. Trumka warned about it earlier this month in his talk at the Press Club:
"At this moment, the voices of America's working women and men must be heard in Washington - not the voices of bankers and speculators for whom it always seems to be the best of times, but the voices of those for whom the New Year brings pink slips and givebacks, hollowed-out health care, foreclosures and pension freezes - the roll call of an economy that long ago stopped working for most of us."
He went on: "Working people want an American economy that works for them - that creates good jobs, where wealth is fairly shared. . ."
He recommended immediate implementation of the AFL-CIO's five-point jobs creation program - a plan that would produce 4 million jobs and includes dramatically increasing federal infrastructure and green jobs investments and direct lending of the refunded bank bailout money to small and medium sized businesses that can't get credit because of the financial crisis.
Just as important is implementation of the recommendations in the Framework for Revitalizing American Manufacturing report issued by the White House manufacturing task force in December. That report contains concrete measures to revive manufacturing in the U.S. to generate real wealth, not the illusory paper assets counterfeited on Wall Street.
Trumka called for immediate action, not going slow, not taking half steps. Those who seek delay are "harming millions of unemployed Americans and their families," he said, and jeopardizing economic recovery.
He ended with this warning:
"the reality is that when unemployment is 10 percent and rising, working people will not stand for tokenism. We will not vote for politicians who think they can push a few crumbs our way and then continue the failed economic policies of the last 30 years."
Workers executed that warning in Massachusetts.
What Americans want is jobs.