For me, the change of seasons marks the passage of time, but also signals a place for reflection and renewal. As I often remind my students who come from California, New York is a very seasonal place. When I was a kid, school ended, June 30th came and many families like mine headed off to the Catskills for the summer. My mother took care of us during the week while playing Mah Jong by the pool with her pals, and my father joined the convoys of men driving to work in the city early Monday morning. While air conditioning and greater gender equity ended that world, New York City in the summer still sees an exodus of folks heading to the beach or to the mountains in search of cooler weather. What hasn't changed is the significance of Labor Day -- the sharp dividing line that marks the end of summer and the start of a new beginning.
I hope to see some of that new beginning take hold in the White House this week. The man who once seemed to be the best political communicator of his generation appears to have settled into a West Wing cocoon that has caused him to lose his sense of political sight, sound and smell. I favor many of the policies that President Obama has promoted- broadened health care, the initial stimulus package, green energy, modernized financial regulation and a renewed emphasis on diplomacy. I also recognize that every President since the first George Bush has been subjected to relentless pounding in the 24/7 news media. Presidents seem to go through intense cycles of boom and bust. The elder Bush looked unbeatable after defeating Iraq in Dessert Storm, only to lose to Bill (It's the economy, Stupid) Clinton a short time later. His son left the White House with poll numbers so low, you wondered how he got elected in the first place. (Oops, I guess he didn't.) It is not so surprising to see President Obama taking the same pummeling in the media.
Still, this is a President who seems to be sending all the wrong signals to the American public, and has failed to restore confidence in America's future. The President needs to present a clearer message with a singular focus. His opponents have succeeded in defining him and he must start using the power and visibility of the Presidency to regain control of his message. His opponents have made it clear that they are in an endless political campaign for power. They will do whatever it takes to defeat him.
FDR faced a far worse economic crisis in March of 1933. Once the New Deal was underway, he faced some of the same problems that President Obama has in truly re-starting the economy. But unlike Obama, FDR was able to convince the average American that he was on their side. President Obama surely understands that it is not simply policy and law that matter, but results on the ground and symbols that must be communicated.
The modern global economy is more complicated to fix than the one that FDR confronted, and state and local governments have become more professionalized and established over the past seven decades. Still, we need dramatic gestures along the lines of the mass mobilization of the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps. We need creative, visible and rapid job creation as soon as possible. Yesterday's call for a $50 billion dollar transportation infrastructure initiative is a good start, but it will be too slow to help out in the short run. The proposal to allow companies to immediately deduct the cost of capital equipment holds greater short term promise and is another step in the right direction. The President needs to make job creation his single greatest theme. Given the promise of job growth in the emerging green economy, he could focus his message on green jobs. Come next March, if someone asks who he favors in the NCAA tournament, he should answer by telling them about the latest news on the job creation front. The President needs to become the Job Creator-in-Chief.
I'd like to see a crash program to create new jobs as fast as possible over the next hundred days. I'd run it like a telethon with a thermostat like graphic set up on the White House lawn. Vice President Biden could play Jerry Lewis and could host a job creation rally every week over the next hundred days. The federal government could focus every bit of discretionary funding it has on adding jobs. Any resources than can be steered toward immediate job creation should be targeted that way. Increased tax credits and deductions for new private sector hires could be proposed before the election, and if not enacted immediately, should be passed during the lame duck session in mid-November (along with the transportation and capital investment proposals he just announced). During that same session, we should add billions in job-linked funding for energy efficiency, scientific research, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corp, the National Guard, emergency response and education. We should fund another dozen "race to the top grants" -- the proposals are already in place. The President himself should speak as often as possible about the importance of putting people back to work.
While the mid-term elections are not likely to go well for the President and his party, in all likelihood, the cycle will start to change once the focus returns to the President's own re-election. The modern political media likes nothing better than a good come back story. Nothing beats the drama of the champ coming off the mat to knock out the challenger. Bill Clinton's rise from the political death in 1994 to victory in 1996 is a case in point and may become typical in the 24/7 web-based media world.
But if President Obama is going to regain his political currency, he needs to focus his message and stay with it throughout the next two years. Jobs, green jobs and more green jobs should be his main focus and constant theme until unemployment gets to 5% or lower.