WASHINGTON – When he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama made a prediction breathtaking in its ambition: Americans would look back at that night in Denver as the moment when “the planet began to heal” and the country began to provide “good jobs to the jobless.”
Obama will deliver another speech to the nation today, with his sights significantly lower and the scope sharply curtailed.
He will roll out a new plan to revive the economy: a mix of tax credits and targeted spending increases for school renovation and job training amounting to about $300 billion. Obama bills it as a sensible proposal that Republicans could conceivably endorse.
Some economists familiar with the plan believe it could move the needle on unemployment over the next few months.
If Congress rejects it, some of Obama’s aides believe it could move the political needle in their direction. A defeated plan, they hope, could become a political trap for Republicans, allowing Obama to portray the GOP as so intent on foiling the White House that they would sabotage economic progress.
“The president will present a meaningful, responsible set of ideas to create jobs and grow the economy,” a senior White House adviser said. “The Republican Congress will have a choice whether they’re going to work with the president to achieve those goals or play politics. If they choose to play politics, the president will go to the country and explain who’s stopping progress and why.”
But in either case – as an economic proposal that might improve the jobs outlook or as a political stratagem that might help his re-election effort – today’s speech is a long step from the vaulting ambitions that accompanied Obama’s rise.
That shift underscores the extent to which his options have narrowed.
Obama can’t run for re-election as a transformational president: The country has lost nearly 2.5 million jobs in the last three years and unemployment stands at 9.1 percent. His health care overhaul could be undone by the courts before it even fully takes effect.
Nor can he come out with a proposal that would make a major dent in unemployment right away. That would require another round of stimulus, a dirty word in today’s political vocabulary.
So he’s left with a jobs plan of modest proportions whose chief political value is that Republicans might look obstinate for opposing it.