In Astounding Days, his autobiographical reminiscence of a youth reading science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke recalled that English fans learned that Woolworth’s was the best place to find the pulp magazines where the stories they wanted to read. “According to legend, all these ‘Yank pulps’ invaded the United Kingdom as ballast in returning cargo ships. Presumably it was worth disposing of unsold issues in this way, rather than recycling the paper.” Colorfully entertaining, Clarke’s recollection also illustrated the incidental—and often unseen and unconsidered—consequences of distribution for publishing’s sales and circulation.
I watched President Obama’s speech to Congress presenting his jobs plan last week and have watched and read some of the commentary on it, most of which as been favorable. While the plan may indeed create jobs and improve the nation’s economic situation, it still struck me as having the wrong tone. It wasn’t a jobs plan so much as another stimulus package.
In the difference lies the President’s slight, but still significant failure to address and communicate the issue politically. Clearly the nation’s economic situation requires attention and intervention, which many of the ideas in Obama’s plan seek to affect. But as with the administration’s response to the financial crisis of 2008, the presentation and justification for the plan was couched in the language of macro-economics, not moral sentiment. It aimed more to convince members of Congress to enact specific legislative policy than to address and affirm the concerns of the American public. While the one narrow aim was necessary–if probably also doomed to failure in the face of recalcitrant Republicans–its priority overrode an rhetorical opportunity for the President. The specific details he outlined, reducing payroll taxes, providing incentives for businesses to hire more employees, etc., would, if passed, help individuals and families in need and, indirectly, create jobs, but their very variety–as well as that indirection–diluted any focus his plan could have brought to bear on what is the one urgent issue for the public. In this case, it’s not the economy, it’s jobs.