The president and his team have one goal: re-election. Nothing ignoble about that.
They know their chances of achieving that goal depend heavily on lowering the unemployment rate and leaving enough time for the feel-good factor to take hold before November 2012. Nothing ignoble about that either.
And they have to persuade voters that the president is focused on that above all else.
President Barack Obama planned to bill his first-ever tour of South America — a four day, three country affair (Brazil, Chile and El Salvador) — as a job-creation event, fulfilling his pledge to create 2 million export-based jobs. Never mind whether that goal is realistic, the point is that everything the president does is designed to convey one message: He cares about jobs.
So the White House team was delighted when Obama persuaded Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, to support America by toughening her call to China to end its currency manipulation. Better still, Rousseff announced she will re-open bidding for a multibillion-dollar jet-fighter contract, thought until now to be locked up by Airbus and lusted after by Boeing. It is guessed that in return, Obama promised to support Brazil’s drive to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
To the chagrin of Obama’s spin doctors, news of those diplomatic victories, with their promise of jobs, was buried by other events. With Obama dragged reluctantly into enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, Japan’s nuclear plants on the verge of meltdown and the dictators in America’s Middle Eastern allies falling like bowling pins, or struggling to control “the street,” reporters were not interested in this or that job-creating trade deal.
They wanted to know how the president defined the mission in Libya, whether he would halt subsidies to new nuclear plants and what the administration’s position is in riot-torn Middle Eastern countries.
The president’s difficulties in positioning himself as the champion of a jobs renaissance were compounded by two new reports on the nation’s fiscal condition, one by the Congressional Budget Office and another by the General Accountability Office. The CBO analyzed the president’s proposed budget for next fiscal year and estimated the federal deficit over the next decade will clock in at $9.5 trillion, a hefty $2.3 trillion higher than the White House’s estimate. And the GAO, reassessing the nation’s long-term outlook, concluded the fiscal situation has deteriorated.
Even more worrisome than those reports are the increasing number of studies showing that as a nation’s debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio crowds 90 percent, growth slows.
It is, of course, possible that Obama will decide his re-election prospects will be enhanced by brokering a deficit-reduction deal between his party’s spend-more left and the Republican tax-less right. That voters want jobs, but not at the expense of future generations’ living standards. In which case Republicans might decide not to give him such a gift. Spring may have sprung in Washington, D.C., but electoral politics remain a cold, hard business.
Examiner columnist Irwin M. Stelzer is a senior fellow and director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Economic Policy Studies. This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.