WASHINGTON -- Americans are eager for Washington to act on a host of issues they care deeply about, but instead they’ve just witnessed another week of sharp rhetoric and political finger-pointing.
There was the one-hour and six-minute speech from President Barack Obama as he barnstormed the Midwest this week, billed as his blueprint for a still-shaky economy but laced with blasts at Republicans. There’s Congress about to leave for a five-week summer recess next Friday, but still entangled in a long-running feud over how to write a federal budget. Once again a government shutdown is possible.
Pick a big issue, and the progress report ends with little, if any, progress.
The budget? Stalled.
Curbs on the National Security Agency’s data collection? Almost.
The public is frustrated with Washington’s inertia. A series of McClatchy-Marist national polls, taken July 15-18, found that people across the nation remain worried about the economic future. A majority still thinks the country is in a recession, though the downturn officially ended four years ago. People want something done about the immigration mess, and they’re concerned about the federal government’s gathering of data from phone calls, emails and Internet use.
They’re clamoring for their elected representatives to do something about all these concerns – even just one – but think that they’re not. President Barack Obama’s job approval numbers this month hit their lowest level in nearly two years of McClatchy-Marist polling, and Congress’ are even worse.
“There’s an eagerness to move forward, but there’s a major disconnect between what goes on in Washington and what people are experiencing,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.
Take the Obama speech. “I don’t think it built any trust,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Nor did it seem to forge any bond with the American people, given the lack of much congressional reaction, pro or con. The president’s new economic push comes six months into a second term marked by a gun control initiative that’s stalled and a White House agenda eclipsed by a series of domestic and foreign policy crises.
Still, jobs and finances consistently show up as the issues that worry Americans most.
“With as many people as we have saying that we’re a long way from a recovery, for him not to be talking about the economic problems that remain unsolved would be unconscionable and not very wise,” said Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center.
But the president is hamstrung by the political climate in the capital, where Republicans in the House of Representatives are more worried about tea party challenges on their right than about moderates on the left.
“It’s a desperate situation and there’s no silver bullets, so you do what you can,” George Edwards, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University, said of Obama.
Edwards said the president, who once thought he could change minds through the power of persuasion, had begun to realize his limitations.
“They shouldn’t be under any illusion that (Obama’s new economic initiative) is going to change the political landscape in a fundamental fashion, because it’s not,” Edwards said. “All of this is going to be on the margins.”