The limited value of vague advice

THE LIMITED VALUE OF VAGUE ADVICE…. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (R) appeared on “Meet the Press” this morning, and suggested he’d like to see President Obama “shift the way in which he has been doing things.”

“I think the American people feel that too many programs have come down,” Powell said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it. I think the president has to, like a razor blade, just go right after the single issue that is uppermost in the minds of the American people, and that’s employment. And he’s done a lot with health care, with cap-and-trade, with education. And I understand the importance of all of that.

“But as far as the American People are concerned, the main attack is employment…. I think he has lost some of the ability to connect that he had during the campaign. And it is not just me picking on the President. It’s reflected in the polling.”

In terms of the “ability to connect,” a weak economy obviously puts a strain on public support for the president. I suspect as the jobs picture improves, so too will Obama’s “ability to connect.” In other words, it likely has far less to do with the president’s style and far more to do with the larger circumstances.

But more specifically, Powell’s advice about focusing on job creation isn’t wrong; it’s just vague. There’s nothing wrong with urging Obama to put unemployment at the top of the to-do list — I’d argue the White House has implicitly done this from the outset — but in order for the suggestion to have real value, it needs some degree of detail.

Obama should “go right after” unemployment. Great idea. How should he do that? The president has called for a major investment in infrastructure, which would create jobs, and which Republicans have already vowed to kill. The president called for a small-business-incentives bill, which would create jobs, and which Republicans deliberately delayed for months as part of a campaign strategy. The president has called for a major overhaul in U.S. energy policy, which would create a lot of jobs, and which Republicans have already successfully killed.

Notice the pattern here? Obama is taking an active approach to job creation, and offering ideas with merit, but it’s running into a brick wall of knee-jerk Republican opposition, which, despite being in the minority, has the tools to bring the policymaking process to a halt.

Indeed, the GOP is instead offering an alternative — a Bush-era tax policy that already failed to create jobs.

Powell’s advice isn’t wrong, it’s just misdirected. Instead of urging President Obama to focus more heavily on job creation, perhaps Powell could use his credibility and stature to publicly call on his Republican Party to stop standing in the way of economic progress.