What Centrist Huh? Beyond Obama's 2.5 Million Jobs

Today Senator Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hit the Sunday morning shows pushing the mother of all stimulus packages. Pelosi was careful to point out that the price tag for what ails us creeps skyward with every passing day. Schumer came prepared with a number. He thinks we need 5 percent of the GDP, or around $700 billion.

The intense and well-choreographed message was a beautiful thing. It followed by just one day President-elect Barack Obama's weekly video address where he announced a presidential prerogative in the form of a specific and ambitious goal: create 2.5 million more jobs by 2011. It's a great start. There are nearly 4 million people collecting unemployment right now, and about half of the people who comprise Obama's projection lost jobs in this fiscal year alone. So, on the surface it's actually not an outlandish figure. It's a doable one.

The wheedling child in me wanted to whine about the lack of bravado implied by the stated goal of 2.5 million jobs, but the grown-up politico in me knows that this is the move of a master player. Watch and learn: Obama will hit 2.5 million jobs well in advance of the 2011 goal.

The situation defines us to some extent, shaping and coaxing details, attitudes, and abilities that are most germane to the necessities of everyday life. Right now the only thing that matters is getting the economy back on solid ground.

Jason A. Lefkowitz from Change to Win pointed out an anecdote on an email thread I read (a famous though perhaps apocryphal one) about Sidney Hillman, the founder of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers union (which later evolved into the "Unite" part of today's "Unite Here"). I'm lifting what he said almost verbatim from the email. Hillman was a key progressive supporter of FDR's first campaign for the White House. He visited the White House after Roosevelt took office in 1932, urging the new president to use his power to enact stronger protections for workers.

FDR's response: "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it."

Obama's address yesterday was reminiscent of a New Deal, only smaller. He will be the president we want him to be. The reason he appealed to so many of us is simple: He listened to us. He catered to our needs and concerns. He stood not above us on a sop box or chanting from an ivory tower. He stood in the middle of the crowd and said it was time for change. We agreed with him.

Obama is a lightening rod for change. Circumstances and the people he governs: that's the lightning. It is our job to "make" the new president do what we want him to do. He needs us to put him in the position of making an inevitable choice.

So while many of us have expressed a range of positions from caution to strident criticism regarding the way Obama's White House started shaping up this past week, there are some indications now that--contrary to the vague fear of a more centrist tendency that some, including myself, decried--Obama may well assume a fairly radical solution to the economic problems facing the nation, one that eclipses the craziest notions dreamt up by the progressive fringe. This will happen because he is a great leader, and the hallmark of great leaders is their ability to listen to the needs of his or her people and then translate what s/he hears into programs and workable deeds.

The idea that we could employ everyone and lower the legal working age simultaneously is not foreign to those of us who believe the answer to tomorrow's economic woes is investment in the future through an aggressive approach to building a new, green, smart national infrastructure.

I can't believe I'm saying this so soon, but after this weekend, I find myself thinking, once again,"Yes we can."