A bleak US jobs report on Friday predictably had heads snapping towards the White House, looking to President Obama to do something. Yet his proposed remedies only underscore how much the president, just five months before he faces voters, is at the mercy of actors in Europe, China and Congress whose political interests often conflict with his own.
That day, Obama continued his weekly travels around the country, prodding Congressional Republicans to pass his “to-do list” of temporary tax cuts and spending initiatives to help create jobs. The Republicans only mock him, which leaves Obama free to blame his opponents and their presidential standard-bearer, Mitt Romney. But in doing so, he telegraphs a message of powerlessness that no leader likes to convey.
Developments overseas have not helped either. American officials have complained as Beijing began letting its currency devalue again, making its exports cheaper and those from the US to China more costly. And administration officials, and Obama himself, have lobbied leaders in Europe for more forceful action to promote growth or at least contain the threat of financial contagion there.
In his weekly address on Saturday, the president cited the global woes buffeting the economy. “While we can’t fully control everything that happens in other parts of the world, there are plenty of things we can control here at home,” Obama said. “There are plenty of steps we can take right now to help create jobs and grow this economy.”
While Obama seeks to make Republicans the villains when it comes to the economy, he is also, more diplomatically, blaming Europe. Citing the jobs report, Obama said, “A lot of that is attributable to Europe and the cloud that’s coming over from the Atlantic, and the whole world economy has been weakened by it.”
As lackluster as the American jobs data was, with unemployment inching up one-tenth of a percentage point to 8.2%, the news from Europe was far worse: the jobless rate in the euro zone hit 11%, the highest since tracking began in 1995. nyt