The last time unemployment hit double digits, the Billy Joel song “Allentown” was a surprise early ’80s hit. As Joel later told the Allentown Morning Call, it was a “song about being out of work.”
The song’s message of lost jobs and lost hope resonated with American workers down on their luck. “And it's hard to keep a good man down. But I won't be getting up today,” went the final verse.
President Obama tried to recapture that sentiment as a way of tapping into the emotion of the American people on jobs by visiting Allentown last week. That was part of a build up to his latest sweeping initiative to change the nation – No. 5,392 for those of you tracking at home. Five different speeches on jobs in a week according to NBC, and the trip to Pennsylvania was to “lift spirits,” according to the administration’s beloved media lefty Chris Matthews.
Allentown, Obama told the audience, was a metaphor for America. “The folks in Allentown – and in all the Allentowns across our country – are the most dedicated, productive workers in the world. All they're asking for is a chance, and a fair shake.” All three broadcast networks gave extensive time to the symbolism.
Only Obama didn’t capture the emotion there. Maybe he’s never been unemployed for a long period. Or maybe he’s just too much of a policy wonk. Either way, his rhetoric sounded hollow.
If Allentown is a metaphor for anything, it’s a metaphor for the Obama administration. It was an attempt to tap into recession angst 25+ years too late. When the song first came out, Reagan was still trying to whip things into shape and Democrats could and did blame him, calling his policies “wicked.”
But Obama’s sequel is a bit different. Reagan is long gone and so now is Bush. America elected Obama 13 months ago. Yet unemployment still hovers at 10 percent and it has become an election year issue.
And nothing wakes up a politician to popular resentment like an election year. With less than a year to the November 2010 main event, Obama has been singing about jobs anywhere he could find an audience. First came the PR efforts at the jobs summit. Then more speeches and, of course, more spending.
Obama plans to boost infrastructure spending $50 billion, create a bogus Cash for Caulkers plan, throw a tax break at business to pretend to be business friendly and then tap into the Troubled Asset Relief Program and extend it to October 2010 as one more way of funding his holiday chorus.
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