SYNDICATED COLUMN: Down and Out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

What I Would Do If I Were Obama

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Throughout the presidency of Barack Obama, Americans have been preoccupied with jobs. Unemployed people need work. The underemployed need more work. The employed want salaries that go up instead of down.

The rich are worried too. The Depression of 2008-? is killing their stock portfolios.

Most presidents struggle to find the pulse of the people. Trapped in the D.C. bubble, they try to find out what voters want. Obama was lucky. He didn’t have to do that. The U.S. was in the midst of an epic economic collapse in January 2009, and has been ever since. It’s the only issue that everyone, rich to middle to poor, cared about. It still is.

In this single-issue environment, any idiot could have been a successful president. All Obama had to do was express sympathy and understanding while announcing a bunch of jobs initiatives.

Not hard.

Weirdly, though, Obama has focused on everything else except jobs: healthcare, gays in the military, gays getting married, more war against Afghanistan, new war against Libya, secret wars against Somalia and Yemen, the dreary showdown over taxes, budget cuts and the federal debt ceiling.

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Obama’s approval rating is down to 39 percent. The crappy economy—and Obama’s inaction—is the simple cause.

“What Happened to Obama?” Drew Westen asked in a much-passed-around New York Times op-ed. It used to be just me. Now everyone sane agrees that Obama’s presidency has failed.

This is my favorite part of Westen’s postmortem: “Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted “present” (instead of “yea” or “nay”) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.”

Westen is nicer than I am. He left out the fact that Obama had an undistinguished career as a U.S. Senator.

Is Obama a secret pawn of evil plutocrats? Does he suffer a character flaw alluded to in Westen’s piece, that he doesn’t know who he is?

Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think eight years of George W. Bush caused Americans to make a mistake. Obama was calm, so they assumed he was wise.

Obama is calm. He’s calm that it’s hard to tell if he’s sentient. But that doesn’t make him smart. Based on his record before and after becoming president, there’s a better-than-even chance that he’s not very smart.

Let’s be logical. Let’s assume that appearances don’t lie—that Obama doesn’t lose a wink of sleep over the fact that he’s presiding over a disaster that makes 9/11 look like a joke.

Let us further stipulate, for the sake of argument, that Obama isn’t stupid. That he’s merely another cynical and/or corrupt politician. If nothing else, Mr. Cynical (But Intelligent) Dirtbag ought to care about getting reelected.


If I were in Obama’s shoes, and I had any brains, if I wanted to turn those lousy poll numbers around, I’d hold press conferences to talk about jobs every day. I’d talk about jobs until the media was sick of it. Then I’d do it some more.

I’d spend two or three nights every week couchsurfing with families who were suffering, cameras rolling as I pretended to care about their silly problems with mean bosses and evil health insurers.

Most importantly, I’d set up next year’s television attack ads. I wouldn’t let a single week go by without proposing some piece of legislation related to creating jobs, alleviating the problems of the jobless, and increasing wages.

I’d send Congress huge publics-works bills. I’d ask them to hire millions of unemployed people to work for federal agencies. I’d push for higher unemployment benefits, payments that don’t expire until you find a job. Tax breaks for companies that hire. Tax deductions for those that give raises. Penalties for outsourcing jobs. Keep the Bush tax cuts, but only for the poor and middle class.

Let the Republicans kill my ideas. All the better for my 2012 ad buy! “Republicans voted against new jobs for Americans 22 times. Against helping homeowners keep their houses 15 times. Republicans: They just don’t care about you.” You get the idea.

Of course, a president can accomplish a lot by executive order. Remember that story about how Apple had more ready cash than the U.S. Treasury? Since America obviously needs the money more than Steve Jobs, Obama could have nationalized it and given it to the states in order to bolster their unemployment compensation funds.

American voters are so defeated and disgusted that they no longer demand a president like FDR or LBJ who actually fights for them. They’ll settle for one who goes through the motions.

The question for Obama and his advisors is: Are they smart enough to pretend to care about the only issue that matters to voters?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is



  • Ok, I haven’t finish reading the whole piece yet. This sentence stopped me cold:

    “The rich are worried too. The Depression of 2008-? is killing their stock portfolios.”

    What the hell are you talking about Ted? Jesus, this is stupidest line you’ve ever written.

  • It only gets worse. Ted seems to be confused, especially if you compare the ideas he floats in different pieces.

    It’s very simple, Ted, and I’ll spell it out for you: Obama and his handlers are analyzing the situation differently than you are. They aren’t yet afraid of the bat-shit crazy Republicans that are currently getting media attention. Right now Obama is collecting record amounts of money from his rich Wall St. supporters. Why would “Mr. Cautious” risk rocking the boat when he’s raking in cash from the supporters that matter?

    There have been major changes in the game; Take the “Citizen’s United” ruling. There is no longer any question: corporate support is more important than public opinion.

    • Part of being a smart politician is the ability to recognize when things change. The United States is going through convulsions that may well lead to its collapse, but Obama is acting like everything is still normal.

  • Obama was made head of the Law Review, an honour given to a law school’s best student. So he IS smart. And I fear Grouchy is right: Osama was under house arrest in Pakistan, defenceless and trapped, as a condition of ‘protection’ by the ISI. Obama could have sent the raid in August ’12 and seen a big bump in the polls and almost certain victory. Instead, he’s appearing before groups that offered rewards for ‘Osama, Dead or Alive (and preferably dead)’, and getting hundreds of millions.

    Dems are so disgusted many will sit out the election, and Obama didn’t have THAT big a margin of victory, so Mr. Rall’s prediction of a single term is looking more and more likely, so Obama wants to put as much in his pocket as he can in four years.

    Which is bright, not dim.

    • I don’t put much stake in honors. I attended an Ivy League school; many of my classmates were idiots. Bush went to Harvard and Yale.

      I don’t know if Obama benefited from affirmative action, but affirmative action was riding high when he went to college and law school. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that played a role in his rapid ascent, including his Law Review editorship.

      I’ve read lots of things that indicate that Obama is neither intelligent nor well-educated; for the latter, he seems to have little knowledge of history.

  • Remember that story about how Apple had more ready cash than the U.S. Treasury? Since America obviously needs the money more than Steve Jobs, Obama could have nationalized it and given it to the states in order to bolster their unemployment compensation funds.

    It’s hard to tell if you’re being tongue-in-cheek, since irony is not your forté, Ted. I know I’m going to get pounded on by all the nutjob commies here for saying this, but: first, it’s not Steve Jobs’s money and second, Apple does need it to keep coming up with great products, thus making their customers and stockholder’s satisfied, their employees well-paid and their families thriving. Punishing Apple for its success and financial sanity and squandering its dough on Uncle Sam makes as much sense as burning all that cash.

    • America would continue without Apple. Apple would be nowhere without the infrastructure and veneer of law and order provided by the U.S. nation-state.

  • Well-paid employees and their families, huh? You mean the executives and designers, right? Not the Asian slave-laborers who actually make the stuff…

    Also, *Jobs’* not “Jobs’s.”

    one “nutjob commie”

  • This line from your column is right on for I have heard it many times on these talking heads shows, which I watch less and less of each day: “Now everyone sane agrees that Obama’s presidency has failed.”

    Overall, you have cynically hit the bull’s eye with this column.

  • Well, Bucephalus, I have to admit that Steve Jobs does run a tight financial ship, what with being able to con a major part of the populace into buying his grossly over-priced electronics (you can get the same shit for less than $200 at other companies). But then again, that’s plenty of money to tax, don’t you think? And, Steve Jobs started his business from the ground up in the 70’s, so he doesn’t need that much money to come up with his grrrrrreat products.

  • Grouchy, programmers, testers, engineers are also well-paid at Apple. Also, I think you mean Foxconn’s employees, not Apple’s. I don’t know anything about Foxconn employing slave-labor, and I don’t know how well they pay. I suspect it’s above average for the Chinese market. For what it’s worth, they’ll soon open up plants down here in South America, so there.
    Susan, it’s not “conning” when you actually deliver what you purport to, and customer satisfaction proves it (yours truly included). I guess technology is not your forté: you cannot get “the same shit” from other companies. Really.
    Anyways, you’re missing the point. It’s not the government’s money to steal (or tax, but I repeat myself), especially if it’s to cover for their financial mishandlings.

  • “America would continue without Apple. Apple would be nowhere without the infrastructure and veneer of law and order provided by the U.S. nation-state.”

    Exactly. This fact obliterates the perennial myth of the “free market.” And without a social contract based upon the idea of a progressive society, private property doesn’t have the stability it needs to exist as it does in our modern age. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: FDR was the best friend capitalists ever had.

  • Obummer is the modern day Manchurian Candidate groomed by the powers that be and the CIA (see Wayne Madsen’s articles on CIA history of him and family). It’s got nothing to do with being smart or dumb; this empty suit is doing exactly what his vetters (from both sides of political aisle) pay him to do – be a front for the empire. His biracial black face silences dissent which allows the empire to loot and exploit this country and the rest of the world. Obummer couldn’t care less about re-election; a 2012 loss just allows him to cash in quicker on 6-figure speaking gigs, book deals, and a big ass salary on Wall Street or with IMF/World Bank.

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