Will Americans buy Obama's renewed economic focus?

Speeches are nice, but...

(Image credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Barack Obama has a new second-term agenda: the economy, said Jennifer Epstein at Politico. This week, the president kicked off a cross-country tour on the topic, starting with an address at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. His message — "a better bargain for the middle class and folks wanting to join it," as he put it — is "similar to the one he campaigned on in 2012 and highlighted at the start of his second term." He blames congressional Republicans for thwarting his aims, and he knows that "more fiscal fights are ahead," including another battle over the debt ceiling. "But on this front and others, Obama said he will keep trying to work with Republicans, and will take executive actions wherever he can."

The president's pivot toward the economy looks like a "preliminary effort" at shaping his second-term legacy, said Jennifer Skalka Tulumello at The Christian Science Monitor. He's out "to claim credit for a modestly improving job market, while reiterating his administration's focus on fighting for America's middle class." This tack also gives him a chance to distance himself from Washington's brawls over immigration and gun control reform, and to skip away from the debate over race relations and the George Zimmerman trial. But tooting his horn over the economy "is a sales job that comes with risks." After all, he can hardly claim the job market has "roared back to full function."

Even by Obama's own yardstick, the economy isn't doing so hot, said Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post. "The president has watched some of his biggest economic initiatives falter since winning re-election." Factory employment has been on a consistent slide, far short of Obama's promise to add 1 million manufacturing jobs by 2016. His plan to double U.S. exports by 2014 is faltering, too. And most painfully, income inequality keeps widening as the middle class "continues to miss out on the fruits of growth in this recovery." Now Obama promises some big new plans. Well, "speeches are nice." But we need "serious negotiations" with Congress over concrete measures that "help nurse the economy back to full employment." And we're "still a long, long way from that."

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Let's hope the president puts some specific ideas on the table soon, said Doug Schoen at Forbes. If his Galesburg speech is anything to go by, we're just getting "more of the same." The White House hyped Obama's speaking tour as a bold, new economic vision, but all we heard was "division, polarization, and moving to the left." His emphasis on "redistribution above all else" is no credible formula for revitalizing America. It's high time for some specificity — "clear plans" to reduce income inequality, fix unemployment, and support a specific energy strategy instead of "opaque talk of alternative energies." At a fundraiser earlier this week, Obama himself said his new thrust on the economy would be "'thematic' rather than prescriptive," and probably wouldn't "change any minds." But that is precisely what we elected him to do.

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Sergio Hernandez is business editor of The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for The DailyProPublica, the Village Voice, and Gawker.