The Blame Thing
by David Goodloe

Back around the time of the Watergate scandal, a comedian named David Frye — who was pretty good at impressions of many famous people — was fairly successful with albums that focused on the presidency of Richard Nixon.

I particularly remember a recording called “Richard Nixon: A Fantasy,” which turned out to be a dream that Nixon had about the Watergate break–in, his role in it, and his arrest, trial and conviction — and, ultimately, his execution — for his crimes.

It was very clever, but, in hindsight, I guess Frye’s humor is pretty dated now. His popularity reached its highest level while Nixon was president, and he faded from public view once Nixon’s presidency ended.

Nevertheless, there are times when lines from Frye’s albums, like repressed memories, bubble their way to the surface.

I had one such moment last week when I was reading a New York Times article prior to Barack Obama’s first State of the Union speech.

In that article, Jeff Zeleny wrote, “When Mr. Obama presents his first State of the Union address on Wednesday evening, aides said he would accept responsibility, though not necessarily blame, for failing to deliver swiftly on some of the changes he promised a year ago.”

That struck a nerve with me. See, this whole “blame” thing has been bothering me for quite awhile. Maybe part of the reason is it reminds me of something from Frye’s recording. In that album, “Nixon” made a speech in which he said he was taking “full responsibility” for Watergate “but not the blame.”

“Let me explain the difference,” the Nixon character quickly added. “People who are to blame lose their jobs. People who are responsible do not.”

I kind of understand this apparent need that Obama and his supporters have to constantly remind people who was running the show when things went sour. But, in addition to the fact that it makes them sound like petulant children who want to make sure the neighbor child gets blamed for some transgression so they can continue to receive their allowance or get to eat ice cream for dessert, it seems to me that the talk of blame is counterproductive.

The point is that the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs each month when the voters elected Obama. A big reason why the voters chose him was their belief that he would do something about it.

But, in the eyes of many Americans, he didn’t do much, if anything, to encourage job creation until after Democrats had suffered electoral setbacks in Virginia, New Jersey and, most recently, Massachusetts.

Then — even before this week’s primaries in Obama’s home state of Illinois, where Democrats are expressing concerns about the security of the seat Obama once held — the president seemed to have a revelation, and the focus appeared to shift suddenly from health care to job creation.

In his first year in office, the president has cultivated a reputation for being “No–drama Obama.” Some folks consider that a good thing, that he is cool under fire. But it also implies a certain detachment from reality that is reinforced by his stubborn insistence on focusing almost exclusively on issues that are not the main concern of average Americans.

Most Americans — certainly, unemployed Americans — want to believe their president is working for them. The “No–drama Obama” image is not reassuring for them.

And that, it seems to me, is a big reason why Obama’s approval ratings have dropped as much as they have. Of course, maybe some of Obama’s defenders are right. Maybe there is an element of racism involved in the decline. But I still think neglecting job creation has a lot to do with it.

Neglect may not be the same thing as blame, but what difference does it make to millions of unemployed Americans, many of whom are losing their unemployment benefits every day because they have been out of work so long?

For the unemployed, the result is the same. And the difference between neglect and blame is merely semantic.

Yesterday, Obama told Senate Democrats not to worry about their jobs“[The American people] want us to start worrying less about keeping our jobs and more about helping them keep their jobs,” he said.

It shouldn’t be any simpler. The unemployed want jobs. Fixing blame can wait until that first objective is taken care of. They are frustrated by the fact that Democrats want to do it in reverse.

Only time will tell if Obama’s advice was timely enough for Democrats to avoid the blame they have been so eager to assign to others.

But if it wasn’t, the Democrats will have only themselves to blame.

David Goodloe got his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas in 1982, and his master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Texas in 1991. He publishes the thoughtful weblog Freedom Writing. This post is cross posted from his website.

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  • Axel Edgren

    Well a bigger stimulus would have helped with jobs. But Obama apparently forgot he had a mandate and wanted to be graceful.

    He also could have sped up HC proceedings, but that would have been “uncouth”. Or something. Probably fascistostatist!

    Obama should have learned something by now – Americans talk a big game on keeping a check on authorities. But they like it rough.

    Bush lost by half a million votes and still got support for invading a country which to a (European) five-year old was the wrong country. Why? Because he rammed it all down people’s throat, just like Obama was told *not* to do.

    So here’s a tip for Obama – enough with the courtship and the non-crowding attitude, and bring out the roofies and the aggressiveness. That’s what they respect. America’s independents are something as paradoxical as unskeptical conservatives – they unquestioningly start biting their lower lips and want to slam on the brakes the instant they *are told that they are feeling worried*.

    Edit: By the by, if this isn’t the time to allocate blame, how come the same people who are thus given relief from criticism are the same people hounding Obama with blame? Wasn’t this the time for brotherly love and forgoing past grievances? I’m actually chuckling at how everything people tell Obama to do is so contradicting and ridiculous.

    Once again; at times I think the US is just some dadaist installation created to amuse others. There is, literally, no meaning anywhere in the discourse. It’s like a hologram is suspended above the material, factual reality and that’s where everyone is swimming around.

    (In one of my favorite graphic novels, The Invisibles, a protagonist is held by the so-called Outer Church and is to be tortured for information. However, his captors are told not to actually wound him. So they inject him with a drug that makes him hallucinate reality out of written text, and then they write “cut-off finger” on some paper slips and show them to him, and in horror he vividly imagines his own severed fingers presented. This is sort of what I am seeing here – absolutely everything in American politics is approached from a level too abstract to be meaningful, but people react obediently anyway.)

  • Zzzzz

    He did do stuff on jobs. He passed the stimulus package which was designed to halt the recession related downward spiral, prevent job loss, and spur recovery. Next, he went on to healthcare, designed to help those who had lost healthcare along with their jobs. This stuff takes time. The banking sector nearly collapsed. Without the action of TARP and the stimulus, we would be in a depression right now. He could have passed a bigger stimulus, if the very Republicans who are saying he didn’t do enough had cooperated even a little. The guy can’t win.

  • David_Goodloe

    You may be right.

  • JSpencer

    Some folks consider that a good thing, that he is cool under fire. But it also implies a certain detachment from reality that is reinforced by his stubborn insistence on focusing almost exclusively on issues that are not the main concern of average Americans.

    “detachment from reality”??? You mean as detached as an attempted corollary between Richard Nixon and Barack Obama?

    • David_Goodloe

      No.

      • JSpencer

        Sorry David, I guess I was being a smartass. What I meant to say is that I don’t think the choice should be between jobs and healthcare. HCR should have been accomplished long before Obama took office, it’s been on ongoing issue for decades now. The only reason it might be sidelined now is because the GOP obstructed and obstructed ad nauseum, and now the focus will be only about jobs, because in such a highly dysfunctional congress it’s impossible to chew gum and walk at the same time. And btw, if HCR does go down the tubes there will be millions of Americans who will never vote democrat or republican again. One hopes they at least will vote 3rd party rather than opting of the process altogether.

        • David_Goodloe

          As for your “smartass” reference, I should probably be used to that from people who comment on this site by now.

          • dduck12

            “smartass”

            Better a smartass, than a dumbass.

            Jobs are priority one. He said during his campaign he would help create or save 3-5 million. Well now someone (?) woke him up and he now says jobs are number one again.

          • David_Goodloe

            I can’t argue with you on that one, duck.

          • JSpencer

            I should probably be used to that from people who comment on this site by now.

            Well, I see this as a pretty civilized site for the most part, but I came from a couple more “active” forums, so that’s my basis for comparison. In any case, I owe you a beer – or something.

            No duck, I’m not buying you a beer too. Sorry. 😉 . . . . . . . . . . . oh what the heck, drinks are on me. Order up!

  • David_Goodloe

    I’ve never said that affordable health care wasn’t important. But, to unemployed people, what is affordable? I’ve been saying for a year that putting people back to work had to be the main objective — and I’m not the only one who’s been saying it.

    I’m one of the unemployed. And, since you bring it up, I was a Democrat most of my life — until recently. Now I am an independent — neither party can count on my vote in the future.

  • DLS

    “He said during his campaign he would help create or save 3-5 million.”

    What’s increasing is the number of unemployed that are going on Medicaid. That’s the health care-related accomplishment of the past year. Maybe this year, he and the Dems will do a better job.

  • New Cat

    Very good article. Thanks