Muddling Out of Freefall

Barack Obama wanted to bridge the divides among Americans that George W. Bush had opened. But now those divides are wider than ever, and Obama's attempts to please everyone, so evident in the last few weeks, are likely to mollify no one.

NEW YORK – Defeat in the Massachusetts senatorial election has deprived America’s Democrats of the 60 votes needed to pass health-care reform and other legislation, and it has changed American politics – at least for the moment. But what does that vote say about American voters and the economy?

It does not herald a shift to the right, as some pundits suggest. Rather, the message it sends is the same as that sent by voters to President Bill Clinton 17 years ago:   “It’s the economy, stupid!” and “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” Indeed, on the other side of the United States from Massachusetts, voters in Oregon passed a referendum supporting a tax increase.

The US economy is in a mess – even if growth has resumed, and bankers are once again receiving huge bonuses. More than one out of six Americans who would like a full-time job cannot get one; and 40% of the unemployed have been out of a job for more than six months.

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