Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Blame Thing

Back around the time of the Watergate scandal, a comedian named David Frye — who was pretty good at impressions of many famous people — was fairly successful with albums that focused on the presidency of Richard Nixon.

I particularly remember a recording called "Richard Nixon: A Fantasy," which turned out to be a dream that Nixon had about the Watergate break–in, his role in it, and his arrest, trial and conviction — and, ultimately, his execution — for his crimes.

It was very clever, but, in hindsight, I guess Frye's humor is pretty dated now. His popularity reached its highest level while Nixon was president, and he faded from public view once Nixon's presidency ended.

Nevertheless, there are times when lines from Frye's albums, like repressed memories, bubble their way to the surface.

I had one such moment last week when I was reading a New York Times article prior to Barack Obama's first State of the Union speech.

In that article, Jeff Zeleny wrote, "When Mr. Obama presents his first State of the Union address on Wednesday evening, aides said he would accept responsibility, though not necessarily blame, for failing to deliver swiftly on some of the changes he promised a year ago."

That struck a nerve with me. See, this whole "blame" thing has been bothering me for quite awhile. Maybe part of the reason is it reminds me of something from Frye's recording. In that album, "Nixon" made a speech in which he said he was taking "full responsibility" for Watergate "but not the blame."

"Let me explain the difference," the Nixon character quickly added. "People who are to blame lose their jobs. People who are responsible do not."

I kind of understand this apparent need that Obama and his supporters have to constantly remind people who was running the show when things went sour. But, in addition to the fact that it makes them sound like petulant children who want to make sure the neighbor child gets blamed for some transgression so they can continue to receive their allowance or get to eat ice cream for dessert, it seems to me that the talk of blame is counterproductive.

The point is that the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs each month when the voters elected Obama. A big reason why the voters chose him was their belief that he would do something about it.

But, in the eyes of many Americans, he didn't do much, if anything, to encourage job creation until after Democrats had suffered electoral setbacks in Virginia, New Jersey and, most recently, Massachusetts.

Then — even before this week's primaries in Obama's home state of Illinois, where Democrats are expressing concerns about the security of the seat Obama once held — the president seemed to have a revelation, and the focus appeared to shift suddenly from health care to job creation.

In his first year in office, the president has cultivated a reputation for being "No–drama Obama." Some folks consider that a good thing, that he is cool under fire. But it also implies a certain detachment from reality that is reinforced by his stubborn insistence on focusing almost exclusively on issues that are not the main concern of average Americans.

Most Americans — certainly, unemployed Americans — want to believe their president is working for them. The "No–drama Obama" image is not reassuring for them.

And that, it seems to me, is a big reason why Obama's approval ratings have dropped as much as they have. Of course, maybe some of Obama's defenders are right. Maybe there is an element of racism involved in the decline. But I still think neglecting job creation has a lot to do with it.

Neglect may not be the same thing as blame, but what difference does it make to millions of unemployed Americans, many of whom are losing their unemployment benefits every day because they have been out of work so long?

For the unemployed, the result is the same. And the difference between neglect and blame is merely semantic.

Yesterday, Obama told Senate Democrats not to worry about their jobs"[The American people] want us to start worrying less about keeping our jobs and more about helping them keep their jobs," he said.

It shouldn't be any simpler. The unemployed want jobs. Fixing blame can wait until that first objective is taken care of. They are frustrated by the fact that Democrats want to do it in reverse.

Only time will tell if Obama's advice was timely enough for Democrats to avoid the blame they have been so eager to assign to others.

But if it wasn't, the Democrats will have only themselves to blame.

1 comment:

askcherlock said...

This blame game has become a pox on the nation and makes members from both sides of the aisle look like schoolyard bullies who skipped school and etiquette classes. Fine, the Right has caused a stalemate and the Left is weakly shaking their heads and calling them naughty. It takes action to get something--anything--done. They all need dunce hats.