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Mr. Obama's BIG Challenge

POSTED: December 05, 2008, 12:00 am

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The release of November’s unemployment numbers today clearly illustrates the challenge facing Barack Obama. Come January 20 he is faced with a challenge perhaps unlike any other that has confronted an American president in modern times. The nation is in the throes of a deep recession that most now agree will last into 2010 and, if credit conditions and industrial sectors don’t improve, will resemble a depression if not by official definition but at least in appearance. The celebratory mood around Barack Obama’s election must now turn to a focused and strategic effort to turn this country around. And no aspect of our economy should be excluded from any recovery plan.

This country is in trouble. After eight years of the Bush administration the nation’s economy is teetering on collapse and our international prestige has not only waned, it is now critically injured. Even the usual bravado of Americans that has at times bordered on arrogance, has been diminished by the reality of home foreclosures and job losses and resulting economic insecurity. For some time now we have lost faith in the ability of our government to intercede positively in our lives. The rush toward “market based” solutions was not so much an indication of unbridled faith in private markets as it was a loss of confidence in government to come up with effective solutions to economic troubles.

“The stress of losing a home, a job, facing illness without health care and feelings of worthlessness are going to drive many people over the edge.”

Now, more than ever, we need to regain that confidence in our government. Mr. Obama will need for Americans to believe that the government can indeed be instrumental in turning the corner on the economy. In fact, government is now a necessity, like it or not. The appearance of the CEO’s of GM, Ford and Chrysler on Capitol Hill this week should be a loud message to the American public that our industrial sector cannot save itself. For all the Detroit bashing that took place in the halls of Congress this week, the plain truth is that if the automobile industry does not receive government assistance the impact on this nation will be like a meteor hitting the earth’s surface. The resulting crater in the form of job losses and home foreclosures, and impact on the retail and food sector, will be such that many Americans will never climb out. And many of those victims will be Black.

Given today’s jobs report it is clear that the President-elect’s plan to create 2.5 million jobs is simply not enough. There has to be a bigger vision. We are in a state of national emergency at this point and we have to cast conventional thinking to the wind. As much as I am looking forward to the festivities of January 20 there is a piece of me that thinks we should keep the celebration to the official swearing-in and following the ceremony a joint session of Congress should be convened to address the economic crisis.

This jobs report is clearly the demarcation between bad news and disaster. While job losses were steep in September and October, the half million figure reported for November significantly raises the stakes for the Obama administration. If something is not done to effectively arrest this free fall we will begin seeing social disruption like we have not seen in four decades as desperation sets in. The difference this time is that it will not be confined to the Black urban poor. The stress of losing a home, a job, facing illness without health care and feelings of worthlessness are going to drive many people over the edge. Americans have dealt with challenges in the past but have always held out hope and had confidence that a better day was coming. As a nation we are not use to hopelessness. It is a state of mind that is far more dangerous than the conditions that drive it.

Though he has repeatedly voiced respect for the Constitution and his limitations until he is officially sworn-in, our soon to be 44th President and the current occupant of the White House may have to take the unprecedented step of a working transition; meaning policy can no longer be dictated by the Bush administration given the state of the economy. Both Barack Obama and George Bush need to work together to compel Congress to stay in session, even if through the Christmas holiday, and pass an emergency stimulus package as a first step. That package should include aid to U.S. automobile manufacturers. Once he is inaugurated Mr. Obama should put a plan before Congress to train and employ 10 million American workers in two years through a combination of targeted industrial aid and public sector driven projects.

Big problems require big solutions. Mr. Obama and his team are now challenged to think big. Who in their right mind is going to argue against it?

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