The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - OPINION - BOB HER­BERT

It’s get­ting harder and harder for most Amer­i­cans, look­ing hon­estly at the state of the nation, to see the glass as half full. And that’s why the pub­lic opin­ion polls con­tain noth­ing but bad news for Barack Obama and the Democrats. The oil gush­ing into the Gulf of Mex­ico, the war in Afghanistan and the con­tin­u­ing epi­demic of job­less­ness have pushed the nation into a funk. All the crow­ing in the world about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments — last year’s stim­u­lus pack­age, this year’s health care re­form, etc. — is not enough to lift the gloom. Obama and the Democrats have wasted the once-in-al­ife­time op­por­tu­nity handed to them in the 2008 elec­tion. They did not fo­cus on jobs, jobs, jobs as their pri­mary mis­sion, and they did not call on Amer­i­cans to join in a bold na­tional ef­fort (which would have re­quired a great deal of shared sac­ri­fice) to solve a wide range of very se­ri­ous prob­lems, from our re­liance on fos­sil fu­els to the sorry state of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion to the need to re­build the nation’s rot­ting in­fra­struc­ture. All of that could have been pulled un­der the um­brella of job cre­ation — short-term and long-term. In the af­ter­math of Obama’s his­toric vic­tory, and with the trauma of the eco­nomic col­lapse still upon us, it would have been dif­fi­cult for Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill to stand in the way of a re­buildAmer­ica cam­paign aimed at putting mil­lions of men and women back to work. Obama had cam­paigned on the mantra of change, and that would have been the kind of change that work­ing peo­ple could have got­ten be­hind. But it never hap­pened. Job cre­ation was the trump card in the hand held by Obama and the Democrats, but they never played it. And now we’re pay­ing a fear­ful price. Fif­teen mil­lion Amer­i­cans are un­em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial count, which wildly un­der­states the re­al­ity. As­sum­ing no fu­ture eco­nomic set­backs and job cre­ation at a rate of 200,000 or so a month, it would take more than a decade to get us back to where we were when the Great Re­ces­sion be­gan in De­cem­ber 2007. But we’re nowhere near that kind of sus­tained job growth. Last month, a measly 41,000 pri­vate-sec­tor jobs were cre­ated. We are in deep, deep gumbo. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion feels it should get credit for its eco­nomic stim­u­lus ef­forts, its health care ini­tia­tive, its fi­nan­cial re­form leg­is­la­tion, its in­creased aid to ed­u­ca­tion and so forth. And maybe if we were grad­ing pa­pers, there would be a fair num­ber of de­cent marks. But Amer­i­cans strug­gling in a down econ­omy are wor­ried about the sur­vival of their fam­i­lies. Des­ti­tu­tion is beck­on­ing for those whose un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits are run­ning out, and that crowd of longterm job­less men and women is ex­pand­ing rapidly. There is a wide­spread feel­ing that only the rich and wellplaced can count on Washington’s help, and that toxic sen­ti­ment is spread­ing like the oil stain in the gulf, with omi­nous im­pli­ca­tions for Pres­i­dent Obama and his party. It’s in this at­mos­phere that sup­port for the pres­i­dent and his agenda is sink­ing like a stone. Em­ploy­ment is the No. 1 is­sue for most or­di­nary Amer­i­cans. And what do these wor­ried Amer­i­cans see the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion do­ing? It’s dou­bling down on the war in Afghanistan, try­ing some­how to build a nation from scratch in the chaos of a com­bat zone. By nearly 2 to 1, re­spon­dents to the most re­cent New York Times/CBS News poll be­lieved the United States is on the wrong track. De­spite the yelp­ing and de­struc­tive machi­na­tions of the deficit hawks, em­ploy­ment and the econ­omy are by far the pub­lic’s biggest con­cern. Obama is pay­ing dearly for his tin ear on this topic. Fifty-four per­cent of re­spon­dents be­lieved he does not have a clear plan for cre­at­ing jobs. Only 45 per­cent ap­proved of his over­all han­dling of the econ­omy, com­pared with 48 per­cent who dis­ap­proved. It’s not too late for the pres­i­dent to turn things around, but there is no in­di­ca­tion that he has any plan or strat­egy for do­ing it. And the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment right now, with con­fi­dence in the ad­min­is­tra­tion wan­ing and bud­getary fears un­nec­es­sar­ily height­ened by the deficit hawks, is not good. It would take an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­er­cise in lead­er­ship to rally the coun­try be­hind a full-bore jobs-cre­ation cam­paign — noth­ing short of large-scale nation-build­ing on the home front. Maybe that’s im­pos­si­ble in the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment. But that’s what the coun­try needs.

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