America needs jobs. Sometimes when we focus on unemployment data or economic policies, we forget that jobs are about more than stock market signals or political platforms. Jobs are about putting food on your family’s table, sending your kids to school with clothes on their backs, saving up for retirement and having a little left in your pocket to spend. A job is more than just a line on some company’s balance sheet or a turn of phrase in a politician’s speech. A job is what sustains your family and our entire economy.
In an ideal market economy, private businesses create jobs. But we have never lived in an ideal market economy and certainly aren’t in one today. For several decades now, a government controlled by special interests has put its thumb on the scale, giving political favors and billion dollar subsidies to big business while stifling entrepreneurship and small business in America. The result has been an unnatural economy in which worker productivity consistently goes up, corporate profits and CEO bonuses go up too, but the wages for most Americans stagnate or decline.
Those who accuse our government under President Obama of picking winners and losers in the marketplace only have part of the story right. In fact, for generations now we’ve essentially structured our economy so that oil companies and Wall Street win while millions of hardworking Americans lose. Government is not the problem, but it helped create this corrupt economy -- and can fix it.
Even the great free market icon Adam Smith advocated the role of government in the “defense of the rich against the poor.”
Thursday night, our president outlined a plan that will, in his words, “put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working.”
Big business is sitting on record profits and cash reserves and still not hiring --- despite the fact they’re paying the lowest corporate taxes in a half century. And business leaders have said it’s not that regulations are stifling their business. What gives companies confidence, said the president, is that “if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services.” In other words, when the so-called “job creators” aren’t creating jobs, it’s time to put more money in the hands of middle class Americans who will spend it and spur hiring.
As the president said, there are thousands of roads and bridges and school buildings across our nation that need repair. And there are thousands of construction workers who need jobs.
We can put American dollars to work not subsidizing big oil companies and Wall Street, as we do now, but instead employing Americans all across the country to rebuild our infrastructure.
We can create tax incentives not for bloated CEO pay packages, as we do now, but for hiring new workers.
There is no question these policies will create jobs, put money in the hands of consumers and strengthen America’s readiness for the 21st century.
Yet what was most striking about the jobs speech was that although the president clearly went out of his way to incorporate ideas from Republicans and highlight those ideas in his remarks, Republicans repeatedly refused to even clap for their own ideas.
Some Republican leaders didn’t even show up for the speech.
It’s disturbing if Republicans are more invested in keeping America jobless if it hurts the president’s political prospects. As Obama said in his speech, “No single individual built America. We built it together.” By the same token, no single party built America either.
In the days ahead we will pick apart the president’s proposal. From my perspective, I’m troubled if much of the cost will be covered by cuts to Medicaid and Medicare -- rather than, for instance, allowing more short-term debt to be quickly recouped when the economy recovers.
Conservatives will no doubt balk at the idea of those who are doing exceptionally well in this economy shouldering a bit more of the burden to help their nation. But my sincere hope -- one that I believe the president shares and powerfully conveyed tonight -- is that for the sake of America’s families and future, it’s time to move beyond partisan bickering and take bold action together. Yes, even if it means us liberals promoting conservative policy ideas. And yes, even if it means helping Obama’s approval numbers. The employment numbers are what we all, as patriotic Americans, should be worried about.
The American people will support the president’s plan -- they know, like it or not, that the private sector isn’t hiring and robust government spending on jobs is what got us out of the Great Depression and what will kickstart economic growth once again.
What the American people will worry about is whether the president has in it him to fight for the American people, even in the face of Republican vitriol. A recent poll found that even growing percentages of Republicans want the president to stand up to the GOP.
Most Americans know Obama didn’t create this crisis. They want him to fight harder to clean it up -- and for Republicans to help, or get out of the way.
Sally Kohn is a political commentator. She writes frequently for FoxNews.com and is a contributor to the American Prospect magazine. You can debate with her on Twitter @sallykohn.