Barack Obama has been president for more than a week now, and nothing has changed. Nothing. The stock market is still way down, layoffs continue, and we still don’t have universal health care.
Where is the change we can believe in? Nobody told us it was going to take more than a week.
Hillary Clinton warned us about this. On Feb. 25 last year, campaigning against Obama in Rhode Island, she mocked him for promising too much.
“Now, I could stand up here and say, ‘Let’s just get everybody together. Let’s get unified,’” Clinton said as the crowd giggled. “The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect.”
The crowd laughed and applauded.
“Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be,” Clinton went on. “You are not going to wave a magic wand to make special interests disappear.”
But what did she know? People wanted hope; they wanted the magic wand. (Someone told me Obama has made Clinton his secretary of state. Very funny. Next somebody is going to tell me he made a tax evader his secretary of the treasury.)
So how much time does President Obama have?
Well, how much time do you have? How much time before your job disappears? How much time before you can’t pay your mortgage or meet your other obligations? How much time before your savings (assuming you have any) are gone?
Obama is guaranteed a paycheck for the next four years. Are you?
All of which he realizes. And he wants to work quickly.
“The American people expect action,” he said Tuesday after meeting with Republican House members on Capitol Hill. “The key right now is to keep politics to a minimum. I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people’s business right now.”
There are at least four reasons this won’t be easy: The problem is massive; nobody really knows what will work; the proposed fixes are not popular with the American people; and members of Congress hardly ever put politics aside. It is like asking them to put oxygen aside.
You would think spending money to help save the economy — our jobs, our savings, our lives — would have massive public support, but that is not so. In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted a few weeks ago, people were asked which things they feared Obama “will go too far” in pushing.
Guess what No. 1 was? Pulling troops out of Iraq too quickly? No, only 41 percent of Americans fear that. Appointing liberal justices to the Supreme Court? No, only 38 percent are concerned about that. How about “promoting a liberal agenda on social issues such as gay rights and abortion”? Nope, just 36 percent of the country is worried about that.
The No. 1 fear that Americans have when it comes to Barack Obama is that he will go too far in “providing financial aid and loans to corporations.” That got 52 percent, the only concern shared by a majority of people.
Wall Street has not helped with this. Last year, Congress approved a $700 billion bailout for troubled financial institutions, some of which went for wild parties, huge bonuses, a $230,000 annual salary for a chauffeur and $1.2 million for an office redecoration that included an $88,000 area rug. (Maybe it was made out of Corinthian leather.)
Main Street is upset with this. Main Street thinks good money may be thrown after bad. The original bailout bill, which set in motion the spending of $350 billion, passed the Senate last year by a vote of 74-25. The vote this month to spend the second $350 billion passed by a vote of only 52-42.
Now Barack Obama has his own plan. It is not a bailout bill but a stimulus bill, and it has an $825 billion price tag. There are probably enough Democrats in the House and Senate to pass it, but Obama wants bipartisan support. He wants the nation to pull together. And he also may have to go back to Congress for even more money, and that may be impossible without some real bipartisanship.
Why is bipartisanship so difficult? One reason is decade upon decade of gerrymandering, which has left almost all congressional districts with large Republican majorities or large Democratic majorities. That is why incumbents almost never lose.
But incumbents can lose primaries, especially if an opponent claims to be a more “real,” i.e. more partisan, Republican or a more “real” Democrat. So incumbents don’t like to risk votes that make them look less partisan. They see no profit in it.
Wait a second. Aren’t our lawmakers supposed to put concern for the nation above concern for their own reelection?
Yes. And the skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect.
In other words, don’t make me laugh.