Updated: August 27, 2013 6:26AM
The economy is performing better, but still the recovery inches along far behind historic norms, and more and more Americans see the country on the wrong track. Scandals suggest a government out of control. Foreign affairs are in shambles, belying the hope that a new kind of president would restore America’s standing in the world. Confronting all that, President Barack Obama decides — to give another speech.
Making speeches to adoring crowds is easy work. Building relationships on Capitol Hill, especially with political foes with different, even adversarial agendas, is hard. But it’s the basis for most successful presidencies, be it a Bill Clinton or a Ronald Reagan, and fundamental to building any significant bipartisan consensus to get major legislation passed by Congress.
Speech making, not building bridges, has been the hallmark of the last five years, generating, as you might expect, ever-hardening opposition from Republicans. Ironically, the one bit of praise for bipartisanship that Obama made in his Wednesday speech on the economy referred to the Senate effort to write an immigration bill — an achievement that came because Obama, at the behest of Democrats who feared he might toss a partisan rhetorical bomb wrecking consensus, stayed out of the process.
Not much new emerged from Obama’s speech in the way of concrete proposals. Obama also sounded a familiar theme, income inequality. Yet, his policies have done little if anything to address that, his trademark issue, and in some cases made it worse. Consider recent headlines.
Unemployment remains high with 16.9 million Americans unemployed or underemployed in part-time jobs. In fact, this year the nation has been adding more part-time workers than full-time ones — a result of the perverse incentives of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Part-time workers now number an all-time high of 8.2 million — equivalent, as the Washington Post notes, to the entire population of Virginia.
First-time home buyers, meaning young individuals and families, account for a smaller proportion of home sales than the historic average. The number of Americans living in someone else’s home, often young adults staying with parents out of economic necessity, actually increased 4 percent in the last year despite the recovery, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
It’s no wonder that the RealClearPolitics average of national polls finds that 61.8 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.
One goal of Obama’s new economic speechifying obviously is to try to redirect attention from “phony scandals.” Yet he didn’t explain why Americans should consider the Justice Department spying on journalists and the Internal Revenue Service intimidating conservatives to be “phony scandals.”
Overseas, Egypt is in chaos with both sides blaming Obama for contributing to the country’s woes. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons exposed Obama’s “red line” against that to be all talk and no action. The reset with Russia turned out to be a fantasy.
Obama said Washington has “taken its eye off” the economy. Perhaps he hopes Americans will forget that he’s part of Washington. Inconveniently for the White House, ABC News noted that Obama’s latest round of speeches marks at least the ninth time he has pivoted to the economy. Maybe Americans will conclude that yet more Obama speech-making is just a way to try to take their eyes off the failures of his presidency.