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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Additional Challenges: The Economy & Afghanistan

With the fierce debate over health care reform dominating the headlines and Washington dialog, it is easy to forget that there are several other issues at least as, if not more, important demanding the attention of the President, Congress and engaged Americans. The first is our still fragile but likely recovering economy, indeed rated as the most important issue by voters, twice as important as health care. You wouldn't know it by looking at unemployment numbers, as this has been and will be for quite a while a jobless recovery, but other indicators give reason for optimism that we have indeed come back from the brink and that the recession is over. Just how close we were to the proverbial brink is only known by the wonks who spend sleepless nights a year ago this month working to prevent an historic, and global, total collapse, but from what I've heard, the American people are better off not knowing how close we were to economic catastrophe. Even with the economy stabilizing, worries linger and people are understandably skiddish, planning to refrain from boosting their spending, a much needed catalyst to recovery.

We have seen the federal government take drastic, and in some cases unprecedented, steps to rescue major sectors of the economy: from bank bailouts begun under W to taking ownership of GM and passing a $787,000,000,000 "stimulus" package which a majority of people don't believe is working and some see as an utter failure. One study warns that Obama is making "Great Depression" policy mistakes. Americans, who by and large still believe in limited government, have begun to balk at these interventions, fear the government will do too much to fix the economy and oppose new regulation of the financial system. Many also see some of the policies coming out of the White House as job killers that could doom Democrats. The intensity of opposition is working against the President as 65% believe he has taken on more than he should have.

The August jobs report showed the unemployment rate increasing to 9.7% on its way to double digits according to most analysts, including the White House, which promised no higher than 8% if the stimulus passed. Based on the President's pledges on job creation, he is now running a 5 million job deficit; will he be held accountable for his rosy claims? Conservatives criticize Obama's policies as a major reason job creation is not happening. With 79% knowing someone out of work, the dire unemployment situation is personal. In addition, while most Americans believe tax hikes hurt the economy and favor tax cuts over more government spending, more than two-thirds believe Obama will break his campaign promise and raise their income taxes in his first term.

President Obama's actions on the economy have drawn criticism from across the oceans as well. He has increased tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade, leading the Wall Street Journal to call him a protectionist president and charge that he is abdicating U.S. trade leadership. I am a big believer in the universal value and net benefit of free trade, so this is very troubling. Warren Buffett explains the consequences of the astronomical deficits we are now running, financed by our friends overseas, which are set to "soar" with Obama's new programs to $1,500,000,000,000 in 2010. Obama is set to triple the national debt to $14,200,000,000,000 by 2019. This is creating doubts about the longterm viability of the dollar among investors and the international community, with the UN calling for a new global currency. The United States has lost it's top spot as the world's most competitive economy for the first time as a result of the crisis, placing 2nd to Switzerland.

The President continues to lay blame for the economy at the feet of Bush, although more view his presidency as a failure than did Bush's after 6 months in office, but Americans will only buy the blame shift for so long. More now disapprove of the President's handling of the economy than approve, and his numbers continue to fall including a 19 point drop since January in his leadership rating. Some speculate that piling up debt, gaffes and hypocrisy are sinking Obama and that, thus far, he has "failed miserably." Eventually this will be his economy alone, and he will have to answer for it. If that time comes before the 2010 midterm elections and unemployment is still hovering around 10%, something no one is hoping for, it could spell major electoral trouble for Democrats. After all, "it's the economy stupid."

Earlier this month, we remembered the day that will forever mark my generation, the day our grandchildren will ask us about. Our grandparents lived the horror of Pearl Harbor; our parents learned from their teachers that their President had been assassinated; we watched on our school TVs as America came under attack and the twin towers crumbled. No, we will never forget where we were that day or the feeling of shock we felt as our bubble of security was violently burst by evil terrorist with no regard for innocent human life. However, 8 years after that tragic day, the War it provoked is facing new challenges and losing public support as 49% believe the impact of 9/11 has been forgotten by most.

Commanding General McChrystal has told Obama he will need more troops or else the war "will likely result in failure." The President, under pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill has said he will not rush his decision and is demanding a clear strategy before sending any more Americans into combat. The Pentagon has delayed its call for additional forces pending a review of the strategy. July and August were the deadliest months for our troops in the conflict. Obama is facing waning support across the nation, with 20% saying we should pull out immediately, and major doubts among his Democratic friends on the Hill. Among conservatives, some believe it is time to get out, while others see no choice but to try. All agree that the War presents President Obama with a major test of his leadership as the AP reports he may change course again.

Security issues threaten to steal the spotlight that has been on health care for the last several months as Obama cannot avoid the great challenges and hard choices which face him. The world's atomic watchdog believes Iran has the ability to make a nuclear bomb as the U.S. says the rogue nation could expedite the process. Meanwhile, President Obama has scrapped plans to deploy a ballistic-missile defense shield in Central Europe. This very controversial move, domestically and abroad, is based in a "gamble that scaling back defense ambitions will improve security in the long run." Members of both political parties in Congress have expressed concern over the decision as Heritage calls the move a "shameful surrender." As for the American people, 31% agree with the President while 38% disagree. Voters still trust Republicans more than Democrats to keep the country safe.

For a fresh look at the dynamics of international affairs, I highly recommend this fascinating piece in Foreign Policy magazine in which Marc Lynch illuminates the American primacy debate with an analogy to a feud in the hip-hop world involving Jay-Z.

For your laughing pleasure, definitely check out Sh&% My Dad Says and People of WalMart. I think every other picture was taken in North Carolina, Raise Up! Also, this dog really doesn't want a treat from Obama, and a space butterfly!

Make your opinion known in the PG Polls: Do you think the economy will hurt Obama and Democrats in future elections? Should we remain committed to the Afghan War, even sending additional troops, or abandon the effort?

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