06/14/2011 04:23 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2011

Playing Only Defense?

Sometimes a very limited exchange of words captures well a much greater issue. This was the case last Saturday during the weekly presidential radio broadcast and the Republican rebuttal.

The GOP commentary was delivered by Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He went right on the attack about the wrongheaded policies that are at to be blamed for high unemployment and left no doubt about whose fault it is. He stated:

There's been a lot of talk this week about how our economy isn't creating enough jobs. I can tell you that here in the president's home state, every day, we hear about a company that's looking at leaving or is already on its way out the door. And why? Because taxes are too high, regulations are too burdensome, and the government won't stop spending money it doesn't have.

Why? The congressman added, because Obama broke all the promises he made: that the stimulus would work, that unemployment would be kept below 8%, that 90% of the jobs would be in the private sector. Typically, the Republicans also argue that the reason is that the economy is overregulated and overtaxed.

The president was strictly defensive -- and asked for patience. "Too many folks are still struggling to get back on their feet. I wish I could tell you there was a quick fix to our economic problems. But the truth is, we didn't get into this mess overnight, and we won't get out of it overnight. It's going to take time." He then curtsied to the private sector. "Now, government is not -- and should not be -- the main engine of job-creation in this country." He acknowledged that the government could do a few things -- such as getting the National Manufacturers Association to give a stamp of approval to credentials given by community colleges, a minor move at best.

The president typically did not mention that the GOP forced Congress to cut a $12 billion program that would have beefed up the community colleges in a big way into a mere $2 billion program. The president than disclosed that "On Monday, I'll travel to North Carolina, where I'll meet with my Jobs Council and talk about additional steps we can take..." and some more such look, see, I am moving, with very little substance.

Granted, it is good for the president to show that he cares. And it might be true that announcing lots of mini-steps will make it look like he is knocking himself out to tackle an issue that until very recently did not seem to be his main concern. Also one may argue that if Obama puts together a major job drive that would entail a retraining program many times larger than the small one he launched and included major grants to states to hire more teachers, police, and public construction jobs, the GOP would block it in Congress. However, then it would become clear who has a major job-creation program and who is sabotaging it. Then the president could stop playing only defense and also go on the offense, making clear who is to blame not only for how we got in this predicament, who caused the massive job loss to begin with, but as well who stands in the way of getting the economy picking up speed, just when it started to take off.

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at the George Washington University and the author of New Common Ground (Potomac Books, June 2009).