Normally when one refers to the "loyal opposition" it's the Party out of power questioning specific policies and positions of the Party in power. But right now, given that many Republicans, both inside and outside of Congress, are encouraging those threatening violence and in some cases committing actual vandalism against Democrats in Congress, and given Republicans' threats at state-levels to ignore the authority of the federal government on health care, it's lame to dignify them or their actions, and even their Party, with the "loyal" adjective.
I really have no doubt that at the end of the day most Americans will be repulsed by these efforts, and thus of more interest to me now and into the long term -- as it should be for the administration -- is the "loyal opposition" to the administration that is developing within the Democratic Party itself.
Two weeks ago, I was part of a dinner among a group of friends, all members of Congress or Labor leaders. This was a table of people who without exception campaigned passionately and tirelessly for Barack Obama in 2008, and whose constituents -- voters and Union members alike -- served as the troops on the ground in states like Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan. We all fought for his victory on Election Day because we believed that Candidate-cum-President Obama would quickly and decisively reverse the Bush administration's war on the American worker, which for eight tortuous years viewed every decision through the prism of only whether it was good for big business and its executives.
Let's just say that as the dinner progressed, the mood very quickly shifted from sweet to salty, and by the time we got to dessert it had become downright bitter and sour. Readily and unanimously, these leaders described their disenchantment with the administration's larger jobs policies and how divorced the administration seemed to be from the realities facing workers. And what started all of us off in this direction was when, just as we sat down, one of the Labor leaders shared some numbers from a just-completed poll of his rank-and-file members:
•On representing the interests of working and middle class Americans, President Obama drew approval from only 28% of respondents.
•On having a strong, aggressive jobs program to get people back to work, only 17% rated the President and his administration "excellent or good".
•64% felt neither party was pushing a strong jobs program to get people back to work.
•Only 40% agreed with the statement that last year's stimulus package had "created or saved millions of jobs", and by a margin of 89% to 10% they outright rejected the notion that the Recession is over, as the administration continues to contend.
This litany of concerns is sadly too familiar to too many American workers and it arises from the facts that: (1) last year's stimulus package, when all is said and done, will have "created or saved" -- mostly just 'saved', whatever that means -- at most 2.5 million jobs, when simply from today forward we still need to create 22 million new jobs in order to be at or near real full employment; (2) formal pronouncements keep coming from the very top of the administration that "the Recession is over" even though fully 30 million Americans are effectively unemployed; (3) Congress just enacted a watered-down $17.5 billion jobs bill when what we still need is an all-of-government industrial policy with hundreds of billions invested over time in infrastructure, a National Infrastructure and Production Base Bank to complement these investments, and jobs programs for the millions of out-of-school unemployed youth; and (4) there has been no action whatsoever on the Employee Free Choice Act (or EFCA), a precise promise made on the campaign trail in 2008 that the White House has now let become a 'dirty phrase' in Washington.
It's pretty obvious that there are people in the administration telling the president every day that he's exactly 'where he needs to be' in the tug-of-war between Progressives on the left and the Tea Party-goers on the right. But there's a big difference between moving away from the 'crazies' and ignoring your true political base, which I would argue for President Obama is mostly the American workers who gave him victories in those states that John Kerry unfortunately was not able to win in 2004.
Those of us at that dinner desperately want President Obama to succeed, but even more desperately we want to see the entirety of his/our government focused on a full and fair economic recovery that quickly creates and then retains millions of new good-quality jobs. The House Members among us at dinner were compelled in Obama's first year to accept compromises on the stimulus package and on the bank bailouts, and we all grew to accept (if not really like) the administration's 'promise' that after health care reform, everything would be about jobs, jobs, jobs.
Well now, it's year two and health care reform is over, over, over. Unless the administration wants to see its most loyal friends become a real loyal opposition, it must take immediate and robust actions to help American workers by:
•Giving the nation that industrial policy.
•Making our trade deals fairer and then more strictly enforcing them.
•Enacting strong and enforceable "Buy American" legislation.
•Adopting 'Roosevelt-Kennedy' style jobs programs in order to get Americans who want to work back to work immediately.
If the administration was to quickly implement these policies, my dinner companions and their millions of supporters would (re)embrace this president the same way a previous generation embraced President Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- 'loyal' to the end, and certainly not 'opposition'.
Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the Economic Growth/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband. He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.