By any measure the last few months have not been a high point for the Obama administration. The rollout of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has been a disaster of epic proportions. The technical glitches have been embarrassing, but the communications strategy accompanying it has been worse. It is as though the technologically advanced, strategic geniuses who got the president elected through two of the most disciplined and impressive presidential campaigns in history have been replaced by the team who worked for Mitt Romney.
But there is some good news. According to the November jobs report, America’s unemployment rate fell to 7 percent, the lowest since November 2008. This is a huge milestone for the Obama White House, which has been stymied by one of the worst economies America has seen since just before the president took office. While the unemployment rate among black Americans remains at 13 percent, nearly double the national rate, the fact that the national unemployment rate, which reached double digits in 2009, has fallen so significantly is worth celebrating.
Ironically, the economy was once President Obama’s Achilles’ heel. Polls showed that while the president was seen as more likable by a majority of voters, his Republican counterpart Mitt Romney was seen as more likely to do a better job handling the economy. In other words, President Obama’s competence was in question by voters, but his trustworthiness and likability never were.
Since that time there appears to have been a reversal. Thanks to the Obamacare rollout debacle, and specifically criticism that he misled people by saying that no one who wanted to keep their current coverage would lose it, the president’s likability and trustworthiness have taken a hit. But while the rollout has been a mess, at the end of the day no one actually expects the president to oversee a health care website. We do expect him to oversee the economy.
We also expect him to hold those who do oversee the Obamacare website accountable, and so far he hasn’t done a good job of showing that those responsible for the errors will be punished. That’s all a part of proving competence and strong leadership.
The economic turnaround that has taken place under his leadership does prove competence on the most important issue facing every single American. The president should be leveraging his newfound credibility on this issue to win back some of the trust he has lost. But part of that means the media has to cover the story.
News about what isn’t working in Washington is important (the health care debacle, the government shutdown and partisan bickering), but stories about what does work in Washington are just as important. Clearly the Obama administration’s economic policy is working. Let’s give the president credit for that, and then let’s demand he bring the same skill, tenacity and competence he brought to that issue to others.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.