by John W. Whitehead
The unemployment rate in the U.S. now stands at 9.5% and soon will top 10%. And the number of U.S. households on the verge of losing their homes soared by nearly 15% in the first half of this year. This has caused some economists to question whether or not the country is headed toward another economic meltdown--a point of no return. However, watching the news coverage of Barack Obama’s adventures while in office, you might be forgiven for thinking there were no problems left to solve in terms of the economy.
“It’s getting to where you can’t turn on your TV without seeing Obama,” ranted political commentator Bill Maher in a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times. “[T]here’s a fine line between being transparent and being overexposed. Every time you turn on the TV, there’s Obama. He’s getting a puppy! He’s eating a cheeseburger with Joe Biden! He’s taking the wife to Broadway and Paris--this is the best season of ‘The Bachelor’ yet!”
Within his first six months in office, President Obama has been wined and dined, photographed and treated like a rock star--all the while, flashing that bright, toothy grin. He has travelled to Russia, Ghana, Italy, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Canada, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Great Britain. And he has been granted audiences with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and Pope Benedict XVI at Vatican City.
On the home front, Obama planned and hosted a star-studded concert at the White House in honor of Motown musician Stevie Wonder. A few weeks later, he flew to California and appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno--a trip which had to cost U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars, considering the cost of operating Air Force One, as well as travel for the president’s security detail, staff and the White House press corps. Most recently, Obama travelled to St. Louis, Mo., where he threw the first pitch at the Major League Baseball All-Star game while media pundits obsessed over the style of jeans he was wearing. Was he really wearing “mom jeans”?
No wonder Obama’s approval ratings are now in a slow downward slide. A recent CNN poll put Obama’s overall job approval rating at 61%, down from 76% in February. Popularity may win at the polls, but it’s not going to create jobs, and celebrity-obsessed Americans are slowly starting to wake up to this reality. It’s time that Obama does, too.
After all, Americans are grappling with critical issues, and they need a president who understands the urgency of their situation and reflects that sobriety--not one who’s enjoying a jet-setting lifestyle at taxpayer expense--twitting while Rome burns, so to speak. As Maher observed, “We see your name in the paper a lot, but we’re kind of wondering when you’re actually going to do something.”
Obama and his administration have talked a lot about the problems plaguing our nation, but what we need right now is bold action. Instead, Obama has become part of the elitist Washington, DC, political system. At present, he’s looking like every other politician.
Indeed, Obama is increasingly being compared to his predecessor and in less than favorable terms. Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate, has referred to Obama as “the keeper of Bush’s secrets.” Nat Hentoff, a long-time civil libertarian and outspoken critic of the Bush administration, refers to our nation’s 44th president as “George W. Obama”--and with good reason. President Obama’s time in office is increasingly starting to look like Bush, Part II.
For example, when Congress attempted to reclaim some of its oversight authority by requiring the president to inform a greater number of lawmakers about covert CIA activities, Obama threatened to veto the bill.
Obama recently issued a presidential signing statement declaring his intention to not be bound by congressional restrictions on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. This came after campaign pledges by Obama to not abuse the signing statement privilege, which Bush was wont to do as a way to get around laws with which he disagreed. (Bush issued more than 750 signing statements during his two terms in office, a practice the American Bar Association decried as an abuse of power.)
Moreover, the war machine that threatened to bankrupt the country under Bush has actually grown under Obama. As if occupying Afghanistan and Iraq wasn’t trouble enough, now we’re moving into Pakistan. As historian Chalmers Johnson reports, the State Department is moving forward with plans to “build a new ‘embassy’ in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed.” (The priciest, by the way, was the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, dubbed “Fortress Baghdad,” which cost taxpayers $740 million.)
And then there’s the ailing economy. It’s what got Obama elected in the first place, yet since taking office, he has been spending like mad, running up a huge deficit and charging taxpayers, to boot. If this keeps up, Obama is going to need his own stimulus package for media appearances alone.
What happened to change you could believe in? Was it all a massive marketing ploy? Were we lied to? Or was the idealism of the campaigner overcome by the corrupt realities of the office?
One thing is for sure, there is a sense of inept bungling about the Obama administration. For example, during an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Vice President Joe Biden attempted to rebut criticism over the failure of the $787 billion economic stimulus package to jumpstart the economy. His excuse? The Obama administration “misread how bad the economy was.”
These are serious times, and they call for serious action. Nearly one in ten Americans are out of work right now. The number of children living in poverty is on the rise (18% in 2007). Nearly 46 million Americans are lacking health insurance. It’s estimated that the total cost of the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually amount to somewhere in the vicinity of $3 trillion. And our national debt, which is presently clocking in at an astounding $11 trillion, is expected to nearly double to $20 trillion by 2015.
Clearly, spending more money that we don’t have is not the solution. So what’s your plan, Mr. President? Hopefully, not more television appearances. It’s time for you to stay home, do your job and get your hands dirty for a change.
by John W. Whitehead