If there is anything that can knock Libya from the top headlines, it is America’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate, and President Obama’s speech on the jobs crisis last night before a joint session of Congress did just that.
Europe and Asia’s preoccupation with America's unemployment rate is easy to understand. The US consumer economy still drives that of much of the developed world, as Americans buy Volvos, BMWs, and Toyotas, Nokias, Blackberries, and Samsungs, and it puts lots of European, Asian, and yes, Canadians to work. As much as the rest of the world might hate to admit it, a stalled or failing American economy means a stalled or failing British, French, Japanese, and even Chinese economy as well.
Here’s a look at how the world’s press viewed what many see as President Obama’s first campaign speech of the 2012 election season.
Britain’s left-leaning newspaper, the Guardian, lists many of the bigger chunks of what it calls a “strongly partisan” $447 billion jobs plan, the biggest piece of which is a $175 billion payroll tax cut for workers. It then moves quickly into the politics of the moment, which makes this bill so important.
Obama’s speech was combative at times, and the Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill captures this line that would not have been out of place in Britain’s own “Prime Minister’s Questions":
"This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math."
"The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy," he said.
Obama added: "Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers. But we can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people's lives."
In the right-leaning Economist magazine, the writer – who is traditionally unnamed – rightly points out that some measures in Obama’s bill, such as numerous proposed tax cuts, are likely to get bipartisan support, while simple make-work infrastructure projects are likely to face Republican opposition. In such a case, Obama is likely to hit the campaign trail and blame congressional Republicans for obstructionism. This, the Economist notes, wins points for cleverness, but may miss a chance at actually turning the US economy around.
In the end, the Economist writes, “Mr Obama's a dead man walking unless the economy turns around or he finds a way to somehow pin the still-flailing economy on the Republicans. Mr Obama's bill is a not-so-plausible way to achieve substantial growth, but, together with his speech, it's a savvy first stab at winning re-election by out-manoeuvring the right.”
The Monitor’s own Brad Knickerbocker lays out the proposals and the politics of Obama’s jobs-bill speech here. While Obama is usually a restrained public speaker, Mr. Knickerbocker writes, this speech was “his "Give 'em hell, Harry!" moment, reminiscent of Harry Truman's come-from-behind re-election in 1948.”
For those who speak French, it’s worth reading the piece by Le Monde’s Washington correspondent Corine Lesnes, who captures much of the pomp and theater that somehow escapes the attention of other writers.
Perhaps the strangest foreign reaction to Obama’s jobs plan is the non-reaction of China’s main English language newspaper, the China Daily. In today’s edition, dated Sept. 9, 2011, it leads with a piece by Xinhua News Agency that quotes liberally from an opinion piece written by Vice President Joe Biden in Thursday’s edition of The New York Times. Headlined, “Biden says China makes US more prosperous.”
Surely the intention of Biden’s op-ed was neither to upstage his boss nor to imply that China would do the lion’s share of work in uplifting the American economy, but rather to remind Americans that trade with China is often more mutually beneficial than Americans are led to believe.
Perhaps the China Daily's front page is a case of cultural projection, an assumption that it is the speeches of leaders and not the choices of voters that set grand policies in motion. In any case, the China Daily story highlights those quotes from Biden’s opinion piece that would play well in Beijing.
"I remain convinced that a successful China can make our country more prosperous, not less. As trade and investment bind us together, we have a stake in each other's success."