The Washington Post

Obama’s problem: People don’t think government can fix economy

The challenge for Obama in his Thursday speech is to persuade people otherwise.

Along those lines, the new Pew poll has both good news and bad news. First, the good news. The poll finds that jobs far outweigh the deficit as people’s top economic worry, with 43 percent picking jobs and only 22 percent picking the deficit.

Also good news for Obama: More think additional infrastructure spending will do a lot to improve the job situation (36 percent) than believe the same about cutting the deficit (31 percent). This supports the idea — also bolstered in this week’s NBC/WSJ poll — that for all the public disapproval of Obama’s overall economic performance, they support his actual policies and agenda.

The bad news for Obama: The number who told Pew they believe infrastructure spending can do a lot to fix the job situation is very low — barely more than a third. Another 41 percent think it will do “little,” and another 27 percent think it wouldn’t help at all. In other words, nearly seven in 10 are pessimistic that this government action will do much or anything at all to help.

This again supports the argument made by liberal writers such as E.J. Dionne, Jared Bernstein, and Kevin Drum — that the larger story here is the failure of progressives to win the broader argument with conservatives over the question of whether government can actively help fix the economy. The fact that Dems have gotten sucked into the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop has only exacerbated this problem.

The challenge Obama faces with his big jobs speech is to rejoin that argument and begin to overcome people’s skepticism about whether government can indeed create jobs. Of course, figuring out some way to get policies passed that help lower unemployment would do far more than any speech could ever do in terms of accomplishing that goal.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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