The Bus-Tour Presidency

Reince Priebus

It is Day #2 of President Barack Obama’s Midwest jobs-talk bus tour — his latest attempt to salvage plunging poll numbers. Folks along the route will likely share similar thoughts: “Less talk. More action.” “Thanks for coming, but did you bring any jobs with you?”

For months Americans have been craving focused, action-oriented presidential leadership. Instead, they’ve received a series of early-August setbacks — an embarrassing credit downgrade, a roller-coaster stock market and stagnating job growth. Yet when the unemployed turn to the president for solutions, he offers only roadblocks.

Look what Obama has done to job creators. Businesses want certainty, yet Obama offers tax-threats, onerous regulations, a heavy-handed Environmental Protection Agency, the burden of Obamacare, and a vindictive National Labor Relations Board. The administration has handcuffed large and small businesses alike.

Obama talks of creating jobs. But his presidency is a job-killer. Instead of freeing businesses to hire Americans, he makes them fear the future.

For example, the country’s non-financial firms are sitting on $500 billion of liquid assets, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has noted, waiting to be used for debt-free long-term investments. This would be a major jolt for the economy. But the uncertainty that Obama permits stands in the way.

After he signed the debt ceiling deal, the president promised he would pivot to job creation—the latest of many such pivots. But his bus trip has the trappings of a taxpayer-funded campaign jaunt — not a policy tour.

For all his talk of getting Americans back to work, the president has yet to get to work himself. Every day that he spends at a fundraiser, on Martha’s Vineyard or at a rally, is another day that the unemployed hunger for competent leadership.

He failed to learn the lessons of the debt debate. Instead of proposing a plan, he defers to Congress, acting as though delegating were a presidential thing to do.

This is leadership community-organizer style. He organizes congressional leaders in a room, but refuses to propose a plan. He stands on the sidelines, critiquing but never contributing.

So who’s the biggest critic of the president? He is. Just last week, he told Americans they “deserve better” than what they’ve gotten “for the last two and a half years.”

On that we agree. When confronted with harsh economic realities, he casts the blame back two and half years — to the last administration. “I inherited” these problems, Obama’s fond of saying. Well, there is one thing he did inherit: a triple-A credit rating.

Standard & Poor’s offered their verdict on his leadership — and it was an unambiguous indictment. “Our lowering of the rating,” S&P announced, “was prompted by our view on the rising public debt burden and our perception of greater policymaking uncertainty.”

For two and a half years, Republicans warned Obama that his reckless spending would have major consequences. When he finally came to the table, it was far too late.

Still, he won’t get serious about cutting spending. Investors have taken note. Until he does, the markets will continue their erratic behavior, fearing yet another downgrade. They, like U.S. job creators, will likely remain excessively guarded and skittish — until Obama can map out what is coming down the road.

Which brings us back to the bus tour. Just as he runs away from his responsibilities in Washington, Obama runs away from his dismal record—faulting everything from earthquakes to the European economy to the weather. If all that does not absolve him, he will talk about the problem’s intractability. The problems are too big, he spins, and change can’t happen overnight.

But the more he talks about how large the crisis is, the smaller he looks. Facing big challenges does not pardon one’s incompetence.

Along the bus route, you can bet he’ll be asked for his jobs plan. In response, he’ll likely grumble about what Congress could be doing; insist jobs are his No. 1 concern — and then dash back to the bus to rally the disaffected in the next town.

In these empty-promise speeches, his phrases of choice are “balanced approach” and “grand bargain.” But how does one bargain without anything substantive to offer? Instead of a “balanced approach” perhaps we could use a balanced budget.

Obama likes to say the political system in Washington is broken. Voters have seen this, and Republicans agree with him. But it all starts at the top. Recent months have proven that much.

So if voters want to fix the system, if they want an economy that’s moving forward, they will have to replace the guy in the driver’s seat before his bus-tour presidency steers the country further off course.

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