Obama compounded the problem a year into his presidency, when corporate profits were on the rise while job creation wasn’t. The Senate was considering a jobs program much like one the House had passed. But Obama refused to throw his support behind it. To do so, he would have had to articulate a vision in which government sets the conditions for the private sector to create prosperity and jobs, and steps in when the private sector can’t — or when it works against the interests of ordinary Americans. It’s a vision in which leadership means knowing when to step up and when to step back, not simply passively riding the waves of market failures, business cycles and bubbles — the vision that unites Herbert Hoover, George W. Bush and Romney.
But Obama chose neither to offer that vision nor to take action to put Americans back to work directly, rebuilding our broken roads, our bridges, our crumbling schools. The stimulus was a good start, but its flaws were already apparent. Instead, he began using Republican language about how the government, like ordinary families, needs to tighten its belt, as if that were a solution for people whose belts couldn’t get any tighter. “Government has to start living within its means, just like families do,” he said in a weekly Web and radio address. Words like these not only undercut the vision behind the stimulus — the whole point of which was to spark a sputtering economy with deficit spending — but they came as bankers were loosening their belts, making average Americans angrier.