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As Ohio Goes . . .

Souring on Obama.

Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Holland, Ohio

Early in the afternoon of a warm, midsummer Saturday, Norman Roundell sat in a lawn chair in his front yard. He sipped from a coffee mug half-full of Old Milwaukee, with a second unopened can at his feet, next to his pack of Pyramid cigarettes. His wife, Nora, sat 20 feet away on a small deck attached to their modest rambler.

Their topic of discussion: Barack Obama and the economy. 

“He can’t do it all in one day,” said Nora. “It’s just like a clock going around—better to worse, worse to better. It’s going to get worse first. No one is hiring .  .  .”

Her husband cut her off. 

“At least he’s trying something different!” he bellowed, as if he were disagreeing with her. “He’s doing the best he can! What the hell can he do?” “Shit,” Norman shook his head in exasperation. Then he shouted. “He inherited all that bullshit!” 

His wife agreed. “I do believe he inherited it,” she volunteered. “I don’t think he caused any of it.”

Norman, shouted again: “He inherited all that bullshit!”

And there, without the help of highly paid consultants or elaborate focus groups, is the Democrats’ main talking point heading into the 2010 midterm elections. 

The following day, senior White House political adviser David Axelrod made much the same argument without the admirable efficiency. “What we don’t want to do is go back to the same policies that created the disaster in the first place. And this is really what the debate is about.”

Obama made the case himself at a town hall in Racine, Wisconsin, on June 30. 

We had to take some tough steps to pull the country out of the freefall we faced when I took office. Back then, the economy was shrinking faster than it had in decades. Today, it’s growing again. Back then, we were losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month. Today, we’ve added private sector jobs for five months in a row.

The president also lashed out at Republicans. 

But to be fair, the other party’s opposition has also been rooted in their sincere beliefs about how the economy works. .  .  . They think we should keep on doing what they did for most of the last decade, leading up to the recession. Their prescription for every challenge is pretty much the same: cut taxes for the wealthy, cut rules for corporations, and cut working folks loose to fend for themselves.

Translation: I inherited all this bullshit. It’s a long way from the soaring “hope and change” themes of his presidential campaign. 

Three weeks before the 2008 election, Barack Obama spent three days here in Lucas County, Ohio, preparing for the final presidential debate. Few states matter more than Ohio and the Toledo media market, which bleeds into southern Michigan, gives candidates exposure to battleground voters in two states for relatively little cost. Staying in suburban Toledo for his debate prep, making occasional campaign stops in the area, and working out at the local YMCA, Obama ensured his campaign received an abundance of “free media”—local news coverage—to supplement its ad buys. 

The centerpiece of Obama’s Toledo stay was a policy speech on the economy. The U.S. economy, he said, was in crisis, suffering

an immediate economic emergency that requires urgent action. .  .  . We need to pass an economic rescue plan for the middle-class and we need to do it now. Today, I’m proposing a number of steps that we should take immediately to stabilize our financial system, provide relief to families and communities, and help struggling homeowners. It’s a plan that begins with one word that’s on everyone’s mind, and it’s spelled J-O-B-S. 

Obama laid out a series of proposals, many of which would form the heart of his so-called “stimulus” package. He promised to give “95 percent of workers and their families” a tax cut. He would provide money to states and local communities with budget shortfalls to allow them to continue infrastructure projects. He would “extend and expand” unemployment benefits. He would give tax credits for mortgage payments. He also said that he could reduce the costs of health care with comprehensive reform and change the way Wall Street operates by overhauling financial regulation.

He warned of tough times without action: “We’ve already lost three-quarters of a million jobs this year, and some experts say that unemployment may rise to 8 percent by the end of next year. We can’t wait until then to start creating new jobs.” And he made promises that were audacious even by the standards of presidential campaign rhetoric.

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