On September 8, 2011 – exactly one year ago tomorrow – President Obama delivered an important speech to a joint session of Congress. In it, the president unveiled a proposal he called the American Jobs Act.
You may recall the economic circumstances at the time, and how similar they are to 2012 – though job growth looked strong in the early months of the year, the summer proved disappointing. Obama sought to shift the national conversation away from austerity and towards job creation, and presented a sensible plan, filled with ideas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.
Independent analysis projected the American Jobs Act, which was fully paid for, could create as many as 2 million jobs in 2012.
I mention this now because what happened a year ago is incredibly relevant to what’s happening now. This morning’s jobs report was disappointing, and we know exactly how the political world will digest the news – if the job market is underperforming, it’s Obama who’ll get the blame.
There’s not much I can do to change the course of that conversation, but if we’re going to play the blame game, we should at least try to keep some semblance of reality in mind.
The American electorate was clamoring for action on jobs; the Obama White House crafted a credible plan that would be helping enormously right now; and congressional Republicans reflexively killed the Americans Jobs Act for partisan and ideological reasons.
With this recent history in mind, how are we to assign responsibility for high unemployment? Should we condemn the person who threw the job market a life preserver, or those who pushed it away? Or put another way, are we better off now as a result of Republican obstructionism and intransigence, or would we have been better off if the popular and effective job-creation measures had been approved?
By any reasonable measure, the GOP argument, which will be trumpeted loudly today, is completely incoherent – they were wrong a year ago and now we’re paying the price.
As we talked about in June, for Republicans, when there’s discouraging economic news, Obama deserves all the blame. When there’s good economic news, Obama deserves none of the credit. Job losses in 2009 were Obama’s fault; job gains in 2010 and 2011 have nothing do to with Obama; and tepid growth in the spring and summer of 2012 are back to being Obama’s fault again.
Remember learning the “heads I win, tails you lose” game as a kid? It’s the GOP’s argument in a nutshell – whether the president deserves credit or blame for a monthly jobs report is due entirely to whether the report is encouraging or not.
But even this doesn’t go far enough in explaining the absurdity on display. If we’re going to assign blame to Washington policymakers for the state of the nation’s job market, how is it, exactly, that Congress bears no responsibility at all? This is, after all, a Republican-led Congress that has plenty of time to fight a culture war – I’ve lost count of the anti-abortion bills that have reached the House floor – but has shown passive disinterest to the jobs crisis.
Follow this pattern of events:
1. With the job market struggling, Obama unveils the American Jobs Act, a State of the Union agenda filled with economic measures, and an economic “to-do list.”
2. Republican lawmakers ignore the proposals, and the job market deteriorates.
3. The GOP then blames Obama for the failure his policies, which Congress didn’t pass.
The accepted truth this morning is that weak job numbers are absolute, concrete, incontrovertible proof that the president’s jobs agenda isn’t working. News flash: we aren’t trying Obama’s jobs agenda.