Obama takes to road in hope of salvaging his presidency
New emphasis on jobs as defeats at the polls show voter disillusionment
HOURS after using his first state-of-the-union address to criticise Congress for putting politics above the plight of ordinary Americans, US President Barack Obama took to the road yesterday to proclaim his new message of job creation.
In Florida, he announced $8bn (€5.7bn) of federal money for a new nationwide network of high-speed railways, which he claimed would create tens of thousands of new jobs.
Mr Obama's address came as he seeks to relaunch his stalled presidency. Yet rather than retreating from his ambitious agenda that has been soundly rejected by voters, he vowed to pursue it. His 71-minute address to Congress was consumed by the themes of jobs and the economy, after election defeats in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts demonstrated the depth of voter anger at Mr Obama's focus on health reform.
"Jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010," said the president. "People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help."
Snap polls showed that a majority of voters approved of the speech but Democratic strategists conceded that his problems will only ease if unemployment drops significantly from its current level of 10pc.
Having spent an enormous amount of time and political capital on his still fruitless drive to provide universal healthcare, Mr Obama conceded that there had been setbacks in the past 12 months.
When he first addressed a joint session of Congress after taking office, Mr Obama's approval rating was 70pc, and his aides believed that within a year he would have passed historic health reform, financial regulation and energy legislation, shut Guantanamo Bay and reduced unemployment to below 8pc. None of that has happened.
After losing the late Edward Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat last week, Mr Obama faced Congress and an American public far more hostile to his policies and sceptical about his ability to govern effectively. Acknowledging that new reality, Mr Obama laid down the gauntlet to both parties.
He first chided his fellow Democrats, who are bracing themselves for big losses in this November's mid-term congressional elections and who, because of the Massachusetts defeat, lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. That now threatens to thwart his entire domestic agenda.
"I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills," Mr Obama said, looking down on his own party.
Then, to stony-faced Republicans, who have run a remarkably successful obstructionist agenda, he declared: "Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership."
He also conceded: "I campaigned on the promise of change and I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change or that I can deliver it."
Mr Obama urged politicians to "take another look" at the health issue, once temperatures had cooled. In his most defiant line of the night, he declared: "We don't quit. I don't quit."
However, the Republicans showed no interest in co-operating. John Boehner, the senior Republican in the House of Representatives, said: "The people were looking for President Obama to change course and all they got was more of the same job-killing policies." (© The Times, London).