An Awful Juxtaposition On Jobs

Last night, Vice President Biden spoke about an incident where his father had to leave home to find a new job, but reassured his young son that everything was going to be fine.  “For the rest of our lives, my sister and my brothers — for the rest of our lives, my dad never failed to remind us that a job is about a lot more than a paycheck,” Biden said.  “It is about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in the community.  It’s about being able to look your child in the eye and say, ‘Honey, it’s going to be OK,’ and mean it and know it’s true.”

I think Biden is right — jobs are about self-worth, pride, and much more than a paycheck.  That is why today’s very bleak jobs report numbers are such a devastating blow for President Obama.  Only 96,000 new non-farm jobs were created in August, and the already poor jobs numbers for June and July were revised downward.  Even worse, 368,000 people who had been looking for a job stopped looking, and the total number of people in the workforce dropped to its lowest level in 31 years.  The unemployment rate fell slightly, to 8.1 percent, but only because of the huge number of people who have stopped looking for a job.

Consider:  368,000 people — more than enough to fill Ohio Stadium three times — have just stopped looking for work.  Those people won’t know the dignity, respect, and sense of community that a job can bring, and they won’t be able to confidently reassure their worried young children that everything will be okay.

Last night, President Obama and Vice President Biden sought to reassure us that things will get better through their efforts.  This latest jobs report makes those efforts to reassure seem empty and baseless — to those unfortunate folks who have given up, and to the rest of us who have been praying for an economic rebound.  If anything, the devastating and depressing jobs report says that things are going from bad to worse.

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Clint Speaks — And Not To A Chair

Clint Eastwood has given an interview and discussed his legendary appearance at the Republican Convention, where he spoke to an empty chair representing President Obama.  Appearing in the Carmel Pine Cone — the local newspaper in the town where Eastwood once served as mayor — it’s an interesting read.

Among the highlights:  he had three broad points to make during the appearance; his remarks weren’t vetted beforehand because he hadn’t decided what to say; and the decision to use the empty chair as part of the presentation was a last-minute inspiration that occurred when he saw the chair backstage and a stagehand asked him if he wanted to sit down.  His remarks were intended to be impromptu and “a contrast with all the scripted speeches, because I’m Joe Citizen” and “have the same feelings as the average guy out there.”  Eastwood says he knew his presentation was “very unorthodox,” but he didn’t realize he had provoked a firestorm of comment — pro and con — until a day later.

The Pine Cone interview leaves no doubt — if there was any — about his political views.  He’s quoted as saying that “President Obama is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,”  and that “Romney and Ryan would do a much better job running the country, and that’s what everybody needs to know.”

Eastwood said his presentation “was aiming for people in the middle.”  It’s not entirely clear whether he hit that target, but one thing is certain — people still are talking about it and watching it.  If I read the YouTube data correctly, the various videos of Eastwood’s performance have been watched more than 2 million times.

President Obama Gets The Last Word — For Now

President Obama brought the Democratic National Convention to a close last night with a much-anticipated speech accepting his party’s nomination for re-election.  As always, the President gave a well-delivered address that addressed concepts that have become familiar from the 2008 campaign and his four years in office, and that sought to stir some of the same emotions that made his 2008 a crusade for so many people.  The burden for the President, I think, is that every speech he makes is compared to some of his prior addresses to rapturous audiences; for many it will be hard for him to approach, much less equal or exceed, his efforts four years ago.  He has set a high bar for himself.

The President’s speech reminded me of President Clinton’s speech the night before in that it was heavy on brief references to a host of issues and policy concerns.  The President mentioned a number of matters — job training, renewable energy, investment in education, climate change, women’s health, oil and gas exploration, and countless others — and then moved on quickly.  The speech included lots of round-number goals (“100,000 math and science teachers” or “a million new manufacturing jobs”) and future dates (“over the next decade”).  It was as if the President wanted to touch every conceivable base.  It certainly seemed that he did so, but talking, however briefly, about disparate issues makes it more difficult to knit together and present broad, unifying themes.

The President acknowledged the difficulties in achieving his promises from the 2008 campaign, without getting into specifics of discouraging data on  unemployment, foreclosures, and the federal deficit.  He spoke of “hope tested by political gridlock,” said he never said it would be easy, called our recent economic issues the “Great Recession,” and added that it is clear that it will take more than a few years to solve the problems.  He referred to his failings, and said he was moved by the hope that ordinary Americans gave to him, not the other way around.

The speech was more pointed in its criticism of his opponent than you typically hear in addresses by incumbents, who often attempt to appear above the fray and largely ignore their adversaries.  He said Republicans don’t want Americans to know their plans, which consist only of lower taxes and reduced regulations as the remedy for every malady.  He noted the lack of foreign policy experience of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, accused them of being in a “Cold War time warp,” and chided Romney for purportedly “insulting” Great Britain, “our closest ally,” during a recent visit to that country.  From such remarks, I think we are safe to say that we are in for a hard-fought, and probably personal, campaign.

The President sought to address the charge that he views more government as the solution to every problem.  Not all of our problems can be solved by government programs, he said — but our problems can be solved.  Thereafter, however, every proposal and solution he offered seemed to involve some form of government program, benefit, or subsidy.  He talked about “nation-building here at home” through construction of roads and bridges, which sounded like a pitch for another “stimulus” effort.  It’s tough for President Obama to argue that he isn’t for bigger government, because he obviously believes that, as he says,”government has a role.”  That belief makes it difficult to convince him that some government programs don’t work and that government spending often is wasteful.  Last night, at least, there was no talk of eliminating any specific programs or spending as part of a plan to balance our budget.

The overarching challenge for the President is that, as he observed at one point during his speech, “I am the President.”  Unlike 2008, he has a performance record to explain and defend, and it is hard to sound lofty themes when your opponents are constantly bringing the debate back down to earth with statistics about unemployment, home foreclosures, or declining median family incomes.

This year the Democrats had the luxury of following the Republicans, which gives President Obama the last word — for now — but Republicans will have their say soon enough.  For all of their apparent differences, President Obama and Mitt Romney do seem to agree on one thing:  to use President Obama’s formulation from last night, this election offers the “clearest choice in a generation” between candidates with “fundamentally different visions of the future.”  With the conventions done, we now move into the final phase of this ridiculously long campaign — a time of more rallies, more attack ads, and eventually debates that will let the competing candidates go toe-to-toe.