Democrats urge Obama to 'do something'
By Ann McFeatters
Like a tennis match, one minute the ball is in Barack Obama's court. His fans cheer wildly. Then Mitt Romney scores. His people jump up and down in exultation.
But for the first time Democrats are frightened. Nobody expects bleak job numbers to improve much before the election. Despite 27 months of economic improvement, millions of voters aren't optimistic.
If that feeling persists into November, as seems possible if not likely, conventional wisdom suggests Obama will be job-hunting come January.
A lot of Democrats are demanding, both quietly and publicly, that Obama "do something."
Some want him to announce a "bold" new job creation initiative, such as putting masses of people to work rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure. But he tried that and got painted with the "big spender" brush. And the money ran out.
Bottom line: There is no money for a massive public works project.
The Pentagon is seriously warning that "disaster," in defense chief Leon Panetta's word, looms as the military faces $1 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years unless Congress acts to prevent a "meat axe coupled with a chain saw" from being applied to defense. Most government programs will take a hit.
Some Democrats want Obama to force Congress to adopt his proposed policies to create jobs and make taxes fairer. But Republicans are clear it is not in their interest to work with Obama on much of anything.
Some Democrats want Obama to give more rousing campaign speeches. He's doing that but some complain that looks as though he's all about politics. Republicans say he should stay in Washington and do his job.
The president is between a rock and a hard place. His own base is disappointed, with some clearly demoralized. His opposition is fierce and certain to have a billion dollars to label his presidency a failure. The country's billionaires are lining up behind Romney, promising money whenever he needs it. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate who funded Newt Gingrich, gave $10 million to help Romney and says he is willing to spend up to $100 million. So far, Obama's biggest backer has spent $2 million, although his campaign still hopes to raise a billion dollars.
Obama's strategy so far, reminding us he inherited an economic mess that turned out to be the worst recession since the 1930s, is proving to be no match for the belief that the concept of a strong American middle class died on his watch. He can say he saved the domestic auto industry but opponents say that was yesterday.
Obama also strives to tell everyone that Romney's plan ― lower taxes on the wealthy, a smaller government with less responsibility to help individuals and fund research, less regulation of big business ― is the same Bush plan that led to rampant Wall Street greed, the housing market's collapse and burgeoning government debt. Republicans brush that off, arguing that Obama's economic recovery is fizzling and that reinvigorating the private sector is key to recharging the economy. Romney's key argument? Forty months of unemployment over 8 percent.
Obama would like to remind us that he ended the war in Iraq and made the decision to kill Osama bin Laden. But foreign policy isn't on the voters' agenda despite enormous problems, such as what to do about Syria and Pakistan and Europe. Romney indicates war against Iran is a possibility and rattles his saber at Russia and China. But he never elaborates.
Democrats are right to be worried. Romney is working hard to make the election a referendum on the economy, and Obama's counter-argument that the recession could have been a lot worse is not resonating. Obama's job now is to build an effective argument that he has a workable vision to recharge the economy and create jobs, not that he deserves a second chance.
The court will see a lot more head-swiveling play before the game is over.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail email@example.com.