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Opinion: In Retreat Again over Debate Dustup, Obama Misses a Chance to Make Jobs Matter

Thursday, September 01, 2011 - 10:43 AM

US President Barack Obama along with House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio (2nd L), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia (2nd R) and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R) (Getty)

When the Republicans won the House in the midterm elections, they said their top priority would be job creation. They promptly worked to defund Planned Parenthood.

President Obama also promised to focus the full attention of his White House on the employment crisis. He then traded away talk of investment for austerity. This faddish fixation has caused the loss of public sector jobs, an area that grew under President George W. Bush and in Rick Perry's Texas but is on the decline in Obama's America.

It has handcuffed the government's ability to do what economists suggest should be done for our financial future: Put people to work and put money in the pockets of working Americans who will then spur on the economy. And along the way, President Obama keeps announcing that he will announce a jobs plan, when we're exhausted with announcements of announcements and plans for plans and promises for promises.

So instead, we get debates about speeches, and speeches about debates.

The White House announces the president's intention to address Congress about jobs, the issue everyone says they want to be discussing if they weren't so busy not discussing it. Then the GOP leadership told the president he couldn't address Congress that day - in part because their candidates are hosting a debate about who could best take over the president's job... a job which, at this point, seems to be more about scheduling than anything else.

Is the GOP debate more important than a jobs speech? People began to debate the debate. Then the White House said they had run the date by Boehner, who had admitted that he hadn't even watched the first debate. And Boehner's office said the White House hadn't. So now they were debating about the debate about debates.

Meanwhile, everyone stopped discussing when to debate jobs, which wasn't a big change given that they haven't been debating jobs this whole time anyway.

The House leadership did what it does best: They said no. They were difficult and defiant and unyielding. I'm just surprised they didn't use this as an opportunity to demand more cuts.

The White House did what it does best: They backed down. They'll now give the speech on Thursday when it will compete with the opening of the NFL. Rather than go head-to-head with a group of clowns bashing each other for sport, they are going to try to compete with football.

Maybe the White House really made a scheduling mistake. Maybe they think they are appealing to the political center by being "the grown ups in the room" and moving the speech. Maybe they believe this will backfire against Boehner, thought that's giving too much credit to people who have failed to make anything backfire against Boehner.

Or maybe the White House is missing the point.

America needs a jobs plan and has needed it for a long time. When the president spent the summer recess saying he was going to offer one, rather than sending one home with Senators and Representatives to debate in their districts, he was unnecessarily postponing a conversation important to regular Americans. Pushing it back one more day may not matter much practically - except it again proves how many considerations are trumping actual job-creation.

The president could give the speech somewhere else on Wednesday - to an audience of working Americans, underwater homeowners, unemployed 99ers, or frightened college students. He could give the speech a day early - and let the Republican candidates chew it over in their Wednesday debate. He could give the speech on Labor Day - a day where we honor the working men and women who built this country. He could act quickly, boldly and decisively. Or, we keep hoping he could.

It's not worth criticizing the Republicans from being obstructionist nay-sayers. They've made clear that's who they are. But a president who keeps ceding the ground to them in an elaborate and clumsy political ballet needs to be reminded that there are 300 million of us who are waiting to be asked to the dance floor.

All of this debate about the debate and talk about the talk leads to another problem: it's created heightened expectations that President Obama will have trouble meeting. Even the liberal base has lost interest in what he has to say. Drinking Liberally is hosting a debate-watch party on Wednesday

When it looked like we had to choose between watching the predictably tame president or unpredictably cacophonous GOP debate, there was no question: our members preferred the debate. That lack of enthusiasm - more than Speaker Boehner's lack of cooperation - may be the president's biggest challenge.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."

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Comments [1]

Oh give me a break. He knew what day the debate was. Picking that day was childish.

Sep. 01 2011 04:56 PM

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