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Labor Day Lite


(photo credit)


0.  Nada.  Nothing.  Null set.  ZERO.  = Number of jobs created in the U.S. in August. (Federal jobs report)

Kinda hard to “celebrate” Labor Day with that big goose egg marching across our screens.

President Obama had a dust-up with Speaker of the House John Boehner about scheduling a speech to Congress on the jobs problem.  Seems that a debate among some people who want Obama’s job trumped the presidential request for Wednesday night.

No problem, said the Conciliator-in-Chief, let’s do Thursday.  Problem is, the Thursday presidential speech time now runs right into kickoff time for the new NFL season.  At least those guys have jobs.  Michael Vick just got a $100 million contract, which should give hope to the jobless masses.  No, not likely they’ll be employed anytime soon, but at least they can scream with (or against) the Eagles.

“Where Have All the Jobs Gone?” screams the headline on a piece for CBS News Sunday Morning show.  Out of manufacturing, into healthcare and technology, overseas to places where labor is cheap.  Some commentators blame failing schools here for the migration of jobs abroad, but honestly, the massive relocation of functions like call centers to places like Bangalore is less about school reform and more about economics.   More and more corporations are finding ways to improve productivity while reducing labor costs, with some efficiencies found through re-engineering work but many more cost savings found through outsourcing.

Organized labor is on the ropes.  The once-powerful National Labor Relations Board is under fire like never before and in an increasingly weak position.  School reform is as much about breaking the back of the teachers unions as it is about improving student reading abilities; reformers see organized labor as the enemy of quality in teaching.

The turgid political and economic climate is creating the likelihood of real paralysis for any serious effort to put Americans back to work in large numbers.  Corporate America is hoarding cash at record levels — in the trillions — unwilling to make the investments necessary to create job opportunities.  State and local governments are downsizing rapidly, laying off workers and staring down the public employee unions.  In an era in which lifelong politicians decry “big government” with impunity, the very idea that the federal government might have a legitimate role to play in jump-starting the economy by creating jobs is greeted with contempt.  Tea Partiers want nothing more than for the government to do absolutely nothing.

In this climate, President Obama faces a Rooseveltian challenge, but to date, he has shown none of the political deftness of Franklin D. Roosevelt whose powerful leadership made it possible for him to push through the “New Deal” that pushed and dragged and leveraged the nation out of the Great Depression.  Federal leadership in creating jobs was central to that solution.

People I talk to are generally disgusted with the petty, dysfunctional, distracting silliness that passes for political discourse in Washington these days.  Left or right, Republican or Democrat or Independent, most thoughtful citizens want our leaders to stop the back-biting and get on with the profoundly serious business of leading the nation out of the economic pit of the last few years.   We understand that our leaders have political points of view, but in a time of crisis as serious as the contemporary moment, politics must bow to true leadership.  There’s no leadership evident in statements from members of Congress to the effect that they’re not even going to attend President Obama’s speech on jobs this Thursday — such contempt for the U.S. President is sophomoric and part of what’s wrong with this town.  Respond substantively to the speech, disagree all you want, but sit up and pay attention, for goodness sakes!

True leadership in the public sector requires the guts to be willing to make decisions that might lose the next election.  President Obama needs to show some leadership, not endless conciliatory ramblings, but genuine, forceful leadership — leadership in establishing some grownup ground rules for the next phase of policymaking on jobs and the economy, courageous leadership that signals that he really is focusing on the urgent tasks at hand and not on the 2012 campaign.  In the same way, the leaders on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate need to be willing to risk their own positions in order to forge the kind of long-term policy solutions that will be this generation’s New Deal.

Let this Labor Day be the moment when the citizens of this country demand that our leaders show some real leadership — they need to get to work forging solutions that will put citizens back to work, even at the expense of their own jobs.

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One Response to Labor Day Lite

  1. Liza Boffen-Yordanov '96 says:

    Living in a country with a 2.2% unemployment rate, you’d think people would be happy. But here in Singapore the recent Presidential elections (albiet in a 12 day campaign not the 2 year run-up we have in the US) shamed the “ruling” government into admitting recent changes to immigration regulations have lead to the exporting of Singaporean jobs too–and the importation of cheaper labor here. It’s a vicious cycle and to not address the issue leads to revolt at all levels. I agree that we must: “Let this Labor Day be the moment when the citizens of this country demand that our leaders show some real leadership — they need to get to work forging solutions that will put citizens back to work, even at the expense of their own jobs.”

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