Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 'Bounce' From Health Care Reform

I know some people who are truly baffled.

Barack Obama's triumph in the health care reform battle is an historic achievement, they say. I've heard some people say that, in terms of domestic policy, it elevates him past Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights/voting rights legislation of LBJ's Great Society — and it may lift him above Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

Well, when the chapters on this period in American history are written, perhaps Obama's position among the presidents will be secured. If that's all Obama wanted to do as president, then mission accomplished — probably.

But he's got nearly three years left in his term, and that reverence that the Democrats seem to think Obama deserves ain't showing up in the public opinion polls.

The USA Today/Gallup Poll, conducted March 26–28, reports that 47% approve of the job Obama is doing and 50% disapprove. What gives?

I think it's the ongoing problem of unemployment and the perception — if not the actual fact — that Obama and the Democrats have done little, if anything, to alleviate the suffering. And I still think that they're going to pay a price for it in November.

But it seems to me that the big mistake that Obama's supporters make is in seeing these disapproval numbers as proof that Americans aren't appropriately grateful for health care reform legislation. And, from that faulty conclusion, they jump to yet another faulty conclusion — that this is all the result of racism. I've heard it argued that if a white man had done what Obama did, he would have been praised endlessly. But Obama has been criticized because he is black.

That's an easy scapegoat. Too easy. Sure, there are probably some respondents to these polls who don't like Obama because he is black, but most of those negative responses are coming from people who question Obama's judgment, not his bloodlines. They think he is doing things in the wrong order.

And so, apparently, does Bob Herbert of the New York Times, who writes, "[I]t is time for the Obama administration to move quickly and powerfully to the monumental task of putting Americans back to work. ...

"[T]he United States is in real danger of sinking into a long–term economic funk. The recession is not over for the nearly 15 million people who are unemployed. Many of them have been out of work for longer than six months, a seeming eternity. Widespread joblessness and underemployment are threatening to become permanent features of the American landscape, corroding not just our standards of living but the very vibrancy of the American way of life."

Herbert does give the Democrats credit for proposing jobs bills, "but they are small–bore initiatives that will accomplish little." He observes, as I have, that what is needed is a commitment to rebuilding America's infrastructure, something the pending legislation doesn't address.

A good example of the administration's failure to connect the dots is Education Secretary Arne Duncan's assertion that "we have to educate our way to a better economy."

I agree that education is important. I agreed that health care was important, too. But I've been saying all along that joblessness was the most urgent issue facing the administration. And infrastructure is the key to long–lasting, high–paying jobs. Any other approach is like treating a broken arm with a band–aid.

Herbert suggests that Obama and the Democrats should follow FDR's lead and approach the current situation with "the emergency of a war."

Mark my words. It is a war that cannot be fought with slingshots.

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