by Arianna Huffington

In his otherwise excellent speech in Cleveland, the president showed that when it comes to the plight of the middle class, he still doesn't get it.

"Not everything we've done over the last two years has worked as quickly as we had hoped," he said, "and I am keenly aware that not all our policies have been popular."

But the problem isn't that his economic policies have been slow to succeed or unpopular -- it's that they have been inadequate given the magnitude of the crisis.

And, in his sit-down with George Stephanopoulos, he admitted to making unspecified "mistakes," but insisted, "if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely."

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration's story, and they are sticking to it -- come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president's comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: "I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. . . . Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of . . . what we were facing."

But this, of course, is utter nonsense. There were plenty of people with a sufficient grasp of what we were facing. Among them: Paul Krugman, who successfully hid his sufficient grasp in the pages of the New York Times (how crafty!). As he wrote on his blog in response to Gibbs, "the truth is that some of us were practically screaming back in January 2009 that the administration was proposing too small a program."

Indeed, so many people had a sufficient grasp that we can only conclude that Obama and his economic team chose not to know. It's not that they couldn't imagine what would happen if they didn't do enough, it's that they simply chose not to imagine. Parents know that if you have a really sick child, you don't calculate your response based on the best case scenario -- you assume the worst could happen and work back from there.

Contrast the administration's response to the middle class crisis with the handling of the banking crisis. In that case, our elected officials -- both Republicans and Democrats -- had a more than sufficient grasp of the worst that could happen. In the space of one weekend, we were told that if the government didn't act -- using taxpayer money -- the worst would happen. Our leaders were somehow able to imagine the doomsday scenario of the collapse of the entire financial system. And so they took action. Not with a series of half-measures, but with a bold and unprecedented rescue plan. They didn't go around asking for consensus. They demanded it. They demanded lawmakers stop playing partisan politics and do what was needed to save the banks. We were told the world would fall apart if they didn't. And they got their rescue plan. We won't ever know if the world would actually have collapsed, but it was a possibility, so we took action.

Does anybody recall ever seeing this same kind of urgency directed toward the daily calamities afflicting America's middle class? It's not that the middle class might collapse -- it is collapsing. And yet, as Harold Pollack puts it in The New Republic: "There is a palpable lack of urgency in the face of this crisis. The problem here is one of priorities -- or lack of priorities. The House and Senate act with surprising skill and speed when concentrated and powerful constituencies really need something done." And so does the administration.

Worse, the administration's half-measures have undermined its chances of making the case for truly bold proposals commensurate with the crisis. As Martin Wolf writes, Obama's halting response "has allowed opponents to claim that policy has been ineffective when it has merely been inadequate." As a result "the administration has lost credibility with the public and the chances of a renewed fiscal expansion have disappeared."

And we are left with bromides like: "(T)o heal our economy we need more than a healthy stock market. We need bustling main streets and a growing, thriving middle class. . . . (T)hat means doing everything we can to accelerate job creation." That was from Obama's weekly radio address. But, in fact, the administration is nowhere close to doing "everything" it can for struggling Americans.

So, enough with the excuses. Enough with the half-measures. Enough with the lack of imagination. Enough with the lack of urgency. It's time to look facts in the face. It's time for all the known knows to be embraced.


Available at

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future

The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama

The Feminine Mystique

The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy

The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics

Bush on the Home Front: Domestic Policy Triumphs and Setbacks

The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, from the Grassroots to the White House


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Obama Insists He Made Right Decisions on Economy; Struggling Middle Class Begs to Differ | Politics

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