Sometime between my celebrating Barack Obama's inauguration and traveling through 33 states this year listening to folks discuss their frustrations with the pace of progress, it dawned on me: It's about jobs.
We all know the president inherited an economy on the brink of catastrophe and took immediate steps to bolster our credit markets. He continued the federal bailouts started under the previous administration and ushered in a new stimulus plan to end the "great recession."
Yet somehow, all the mighty economic wizards advising Obama seem to have forgotten how to quickly stir the magical elixir of new job creation into the brew.
Though there are now clear signs that a modest recovery is under way — productivity is up; GDP increased 3.5 percent in the third quarter of this year, its fastest rate of growth in two years; and a significant number of corporations are reporting healthy profits — it is economic malpractice that those with fiduciary responsibility for the health of the U.S. economy continue to ignore job growth.
With the recent Labor Department announcement that joblessness rose in 29 states in October compared with 22 in September, it's time to demand action not just from elected officials but from the private sector, especially those companies and industries that benefited from an exhaustive list of tax-payer-funded bailouts and loans.
Prior to his departure for Asia, Obama announced he would host a White House forum on job creation and economic growth next month. The last thing those looking for work need is another "jaw-jaw" conference that will do little good if immediate "action-action" doesn't emerge from it — and soon.
Lawmakers need to adopt commonsense policies that ensure new job growth and extend the road to recovery from Wall Street all the way to Main Street.
We need to create jobs for the skills people already possess, and we need to focus on jobs that reduce imported goods. We need to rebuild our manufacturing base. If that requires a degree of protectionism, then so be it.
National markets have been protected for centuries for good reason. We have to get smart about our trade policies.
Never before in history has a sovereign nation allowed merchants ships filled with goods that compete with local industry into a port to be sold at prices that bankrupt local manufacturers. Yet we do. Never before has a sovereign nation allowed entire factories and industries to move offshore while still retaining the right to sell goods here without rigid fees. Yet we do.
Of course we have high unemployment!
Unions have been vilified and busted down by corporations and their allies. For generations, a strangling web of regulations designed to keep small-business owners from competing with large corporations has been woven until folks can't even sell eggs or apples to their neighbors anymore without breaking a law. Heck, we can't even drive across town looking for work without paying some corporation a government-mandated fee on the chance that we'll get into a car crash.
Weeks before Obama made his announcement, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson created a working group to focus on, as he so succinctly phrased it, "jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs."
"That means," he said, "encouraging investment in alternative energy to create jobs in new industries that will reduce our reliance on foreign oil. It means rebuilding our nation's ailing infrastructure, from high-speed rail to broadband Internet access. It means making sure that our small businesses, the engines of our economy, have access to the loans and investments they need to create jobs and thrive."
It also means that taxpayers will have to accept that we can't grow the economy and fund our priorities (Medicare, Social Security, education, fighting two wars, etc.) if all federal funds are spent paying creditors only.
We have to get to what economists call the sustainable level, which is when deficits stop adding to the debt. This happens when the fiscal deficit does not exceed 3 percent of GDP, which the administration has set as its targeted goal.
The "Just Say No" Republicans, however, have shown no interest in cleaning up the mess the Bush administration created or in working with this administration and congressional leaders in finding real solutions to get people back into the workforce.
Obama must come out fighting hard, and Democrats must stop acting as if they are not in charge. It's time they start reminding the GOP how much support they gave "W" on critical issues like the Patriot Act, Afghanistan, Iraq, Medicare Part D and the Wall Street bailouts.
Meanwhile, we need to force the feet of every lawmaker and corporate CEO a little closer to the fire on helping to spur economic growth that creates jobs in a fiscally responsible manner.
Send the message to Washington and Wall Street: It's jobs, jobs, jobs, stupid!
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.