By the summer of 1982, Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings were in the low 40s, a bit lower than Barack Obama’s are now. Voters were angry over a deep recession, and many commentators expected that the GOP would lose as many as 50 seats in the House of Representatives.
But Reagan came out swinging, blaming Jimmy Carter’s policies for a bad economy. He claimed he had inherited the “worst economic mess” in decades, further telling voters that “No, we haven’t solved 20 years of problems in our first 20 months in office, but we have made a beginning where others failed to act.”
As a result, the GOP only lost 26 seats that year.
If Obama is to have any chance of preserving a Democratic Congress in a period of unrelenting unemployment, he will have to take a page from the book of Ronald Reagan, the great communicator. Obama is helped by the fact that Americans already blame Bush more for the economy, according to a recent Bloomberg poll.
If his weekly address on Saturday is any indication, the president has finally read that book:
In his Saturday address, Obama rightly blamed Republicans for the fact that out-of-work Americans can no longer rely on unemployment benefits:
Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it’s a form of welfare. They say it discourages folks from looking for work. Well, I’ve met a lot of folks looking for work these past few years, and I can tell you, I haven’t met any Americans who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family. And we all have friends, neighbors, or family members who already knows how hard it is to land a job when five workers are competing for every opening.
Now in the past, Presidents and Congresses of both parties have treated unemployment insurance for what it is – an emergency expenditure. That’s because an economic disaster can devastate families and communities just as surely as a flood or tornado.
Suddenly, Republican leaders want to change that. They say we shouldn’t provide unemployment insurance because it costs money. So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they’ve finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They’ve got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don’t need them and didn’t even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help. And every day this goes on, another 50,000 Americans lose that badly needed lifeline.
Well, I think these Senators are wrong. We can’t afford to go back to the same misguided policies that led us into this mess. We need to move forward with the policies that are leading us out of this mess.
That could be a winning message.