Remember the first pivot to jobs? After wasting much of 2011 trying to strike a Grand Bargain with the Republicans on deficit reduction, which earned him the worst approval ratings of his Presidency, Obama finally woke up in the fall of that year and pivoted toward the jobs issue. He proposed the American Jobs Act, a major package of infrastructure investment, extended unemployment benefits, tax cuts and job protection for teachers, police and firefighters, and pilloried the GOP for opposing the plan and not caring about the jobs and incomes of ordinary Americans.
You could date the revival of Obama’s political fortunes from that pivot. His approval ratings started improving and he went on to score a solid victory in the 2012 election.
But in 2013, Obama has regressed to his early 2011 form. The president has wasted a good deal of time and political capital this year trying to strike yet another Grand Bargain with the GOP and, once again, he has little to show for it. And, with new budget forecasts showing the deficit already falling sharply and Republicans showing little interest in budget compromise, the prospects for such a Bargain are fading by the day.
Indeed, all that Republicans seem really interested in is attacking him on the scandal of the day. So far, Obama has been able to weather these attacks, partly by counter-mobilization of his own base. But how long can he expect this to last and, crucially, how can he develop a head of steam heading into the 2014 election, where he hopes his party can hold the Senate and take back the House?
There’s really only one way; replicate his jobs pivot from 2011. That means a full-bore effort to change how Washington is dealing with (really, not dealing with) today’s economic problems. Jim Tankersley, in a great Washington Post article on Tuesday, details the sorry state of the economic conversation in our nation’s capitol:
Washington has all but abandoned efforts to help the economy recover faster…There are no serious negotiations underway between the White House and congressional leaders on legislation to spur growth, and no bipartisan “gangs” of senators are huddling to craft a compromise job-creation package.
Yet economic growth remains slow by historical standards, and 11.5 million Americans are still looking for work. More than 4 million people have been unemployed for longer than six months. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found in April that two-thirds of Americans said jobs were difficult to find in their communities.
Only the President is capable of breaking through this not-so-benign neglect and refocusing the Washington conversation on jobs. It won’t be easy; occasional attempts to change the conversation, as in his recent his recent Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour, have been ignored by the press and the GOP alike. But if he focuses relentlessly, rather than occasionally, on the issue and does succeed in breaking through, the rewards could be great, just as he found in his first pivot to jobs back in 2011.