Thursday, January 28, 2010

President's agenda for jobs: is it populist enough?

I didn’t watch or listen to President Obama’ State of the Union address. I read it the morning after. And I re-read large chunks of it, focusing on what he said about jobs.

“Jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010,” he declared. Here are his plans.

One way is to “put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow” and “building clean energy facilities.” These steps, however, “won’t make up for the seven million jobs that we’ve lost over the past two years.”

So “it’s time to get serious about the problems that are hampering our growth.” One of a series of initiatives proposed by the President: “Double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America.”

In aggressively seeking new markets, the U.S. must make sure that other countries are playing by the rules. “And that’s why we’ll continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.”
Some pundits attributed Obama’s new emphasis on jobs to a need to become more “populist” after a Republican won the U.S. Senate seat held by the late Senator Kennedy. But how populist is President Obama’s position?

A few weeks ago Gallup asked 1,017 Americans this open-ended question: “In your opinion, what would be the best way to create more jobs in the United States?”

The top prescription was “Keep manufacturing jobs here/Stop sending overseas,” favored by 18% of respondents. Another 4% chose “higher taxes on imports/Buy American.” So in effect 20% deemed globalization to be the chief obstacle to ending U.S. unemployment.

The Gallup poll findings were consistent with those in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Its respondents were asked to prioritize a prepared list of 11 long-range foreign policy goals. Surprisingly, “protecting the jobs of American workers” shared the top place with “taking measures to protect the U.S. from terrorist attacks.” Both were given 85% “top priority," and 13% “some priority."

If these findings do reflect public opinion, Obama’s jobs agenda may not turn out to be a winner on voting day. It could depend on the unemployment rate at that time.

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