Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Don't Blame It On Rio

As a general rule, I like the writers for the New York Times.

The Times is usually on top of things. It provides more insight on the news of the day than just about any newspaper I can think of.

When someone of whom I know little dies, I have found the Times' obituaries to be the most informative. In fact, even if the deceased is someone with whom I was familiar, the Times' obituaries are the best I've seen. When I write in this blog about someone who has died, I usually link to the Times' obituary because it is the best supplement to whatever it is that I want to say.

Politically, the Times is farther to the left than I am, but we do tend to agree on many issues. One thing I will say about all of the columnists for the Times, whether I agree with them or not, is that they are good writers who ask reasonable questions and reach logical conclusions.

I guess my preferred Times columnist lately is Bob Herbert. Given his history — a focus on racism and race issues — I would have been inclined to expect him to join others on the left in playing the race card in defense of Barack Obama, but that has not been the case.

Today, for example, Herbert, who is black, begins his column by saying, "The big question on the domestic front right now is whether President Obama understands the gravity of the employment crisis facing the country. Does he get it? The signals coming out of the White House have not been encouraging."

Herbert seems to understand something that other columnists for other newspapers — regardless of which end of the political spectrum they occupy — don't. Joblessness is not a racial issue, it is a people issue. Those who want to get mired in the debate over race can dig deeply enough to find numbers to show that one race is affected more by unemployment than another.

But Herbert sees beyond that. He knows that there are lives behind those numbers, and those lives are in jeopardy.
"The Beltway crowd and the Einsteins of high finance who never saw this economic collapse coming are now telling us with their usual breezy arrogance that the Great Recession is probably over. Their focus, of course, is on data, abstractions like the gross domestic product, not the continued suffering of living, breathing human beings struggling with the nightmare of joblessness."

And he understands the frustration of the unemployed when they hear Obama talk about jobs as a "lagging indicator."
"The view of most American families is somewhat less blasé. Faced with the relentless monthly costs of housing, transportation, food, clothing, education and so forth, they have precious little time to wait for this lagging indicator to come creeping across the finish line."

Many of the Democrats with whom I have spoken seem to be in some sort of state of denial. They seem to be frozen in November 2008 and the euphoria of winning the White House and huge majorities in Congress. They don't understand the urgent expectations — what a fellow blogger calls "the fierce specificity of now" — and how the failure to meet them can bring the presumption of indefinite Democratic control of the American government crashing down. But Herbert does.
"The Obama administration seems hamstrung by the unemployment crisis. No big ideas have emerged. No dramatically creative initiatives. While devoting enormous amounts of energy to health care, and trying now to decide what to do about Afghanistan, the president has not even conveyed the sense of urgency that the crisis in employment warrants.

"If that does not change, these staggering levels of joblessness have the potential to cripple not just the well–being of millions of American families, but any real prospects for sustained economic recovery and the political prospects of the president as well. An unemployed electorate is an unhappy electorate."

The unemployed electorate wants to feel that its president — to borrow the words of another president who emphasized health care over job creation in his first year in office and paid a heavy price for it — feels its pain.

But there are many more unemployed Americans today than there were in Bill Clinton's day. And they need to know that Obama is doing more than just feeling their pain. They want to know that he is doing something about it.

Nearly nine months into the Obama presidency, they aren't reassured.

Keep talking, Mr. Herbert. Maybe somewhere someone will listen.

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