WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
As voters size up their picks this midterm election, they might wonder just where is "the change we can believe in?" If the reordering of national priorities that President Obama and the Democrats promised in 2008 has occurred, there is little sign of it in the lives of the middle class households they promised to champion.
The economy continues to lose more jobs than it creates. And for Americans with a job, wages remain flat, even as they are working harder and their productivity climbs. Employers are increasingly passing on the cost of health care to their workers while sitting on billions of dollars in revenues. July sales of existing homes dropped 27 percent from the month before and the sales of new homes came in at the slowest pace since Feds started tracking them in the early 1960s. And despite the historic passage of health care legislation, Obamacare’s impact remains largely theoretical.
Welcome to "Stucknation" where homeowners can't afford to stay in their homes or sell them, employed workers fear for the stability of their jobs while the unemployed still search, and economists can’t tell us if we’re going up or down.
All this goes back to the health of our markets, which is all about confidence. What engenders confidence? Leadership and vision. That’s where the White House is missing a key opportunity.
For two years, the Obama Administration has failed to articulate a coherent vision for just how the nation will regain its footing. It has short circuited the chemistry between the President and his supporters with an uptight media strategy that suggests they have let Fox News get in their head. Right now the Obama Administration remains reactive. The President weighs in courageously on the question of the location of an Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque than appears to try and walk it back later. The great communicator comes off as the great equivocator.
When there is the potential for an authentic interaction between the President and his diehard supporters, it is squandered so he can stay on the canned message and be on time for the next million dollar fundraiser.
I saw this firsthand as one of the local reporters picked to do pool reporting in July when the President visited a sandwich shop in Edison, New Jersey. The White House press person for the event was a temp. Hundreds of well wishers turned out in a spontaneous outpouring of support, but were pushed blocks away by the Secret Service.
Tanesha Wyles was there with her two young sons Joshua and Emmanuel in tow. “We have come from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and we would like to get a good look at our President that we voted for," she complained to me. "We can't get a simple glimpse of him. I think it is unfair that we have to go blocks down where we won't even see the color vehicle he is stepping out of."
Disabled homeowner Harry Klaine was told to move along with the rest of the throngs of supporters. "I came out here to thank Mr. Obama for my mortgage loan modification," Klaine said. "I was going to get foreclosed on Saturday now I can save my house!" Harry would have been great on stage with the President instead of being shuffled off like a vagrant.
The media was permitted to document the President ordering a sandwich and than was ushered out while he had lunch privately with some handpicked small business owners. One of the lunching business owners was Tom Horsburgh, a Republican who manufactures cardboard tubes. He said he told the President that America needed to get back to basics and re-instate shop classes in the nation's high schools because he couldn't find anybody who could read a tape measure, much less use a circular saw. That would have been a great moment on a local high school stage in a town hall! It could have helped spark a broader conversation about how we might re-imagine the America that comes next.
After the staged lunch reporters were permitted back in to record a few canned words from the President. No questions from reporters were permitted lest something spontaneous happen that they would have to account for later. Meanwhile the crowds continued to grow blocks away. Obama supporters sat on roof tops patiently waiting for the leader they never got to see.