Nothing But The Rent

Friday at Tell Me More means the Barbershop is jumping.  And today, it covered the works: sports with the NBA finals, entertainment with the latest in late night and talk about this week's nuclear summit in Washington. 

And moderator Jimi Izrael made the point that — as big as that event was for us in Washington — it wasn't big news where he lived, because people there are more focused on getting the rent paid.

And that's a key point that I think the administration is missing.

Washington insiders think the president is on a roll. After pronouncing him politically comatose when the Democrats lost their 60-vote majority in the Senate, everybody in town is praising his post-health care resurrection. Now he's back on the block, setting the agenda the way he did in the early days of his presidency. He reaches out to the "drill baby drill" crowd by agreeing to some off-shore oil exploration; he signs a historic nuclear arms agreement with the Russians; he gets tough with coal mine operators on safety issues.

He's back to being the master of the game. And that's what official Washington cares about. But that's not what America cares about, and you can tell because the president's approval numbers are hovering in the mid-to-high 40s.

Washington can be a rough, unforgiving town, in its own way. Here, lots of people spend 10 to 12 hours a day at the office, and 2 to 4 hours returning phone calls, reading up and compulsively checking their BlackBerries. Why? If you don't work 'til you drop, the next person in your professional food chain will eat your lunch, and you'll be sent to the minors ... get the boring assignments ... be the last person people talk to at the party.

But those of us inside the Beltway, including the president himself, seem out of touch with the world in which a few rocky months on your job — or a few bad months for the economy — means you're out. No soft place. No grad school program to land in. And then you'll have to compete with teenagers to pick up a weekend shift at the Baby Gap. Or your driver's license will get suspended after you fall behind on child support. Or you'll have to decide whether to bluff your way through a late rent payment, or just pack up your kids and move into your mother's basement.

That's how a lot of Americans live their whole lives, and the recession means more of us are living that way now. As long as the jobless rate is close to 10 percent — with under-employment closer to 20 percent — even people who have jobs are too worried about keeping them to focus on the president's good intentions. And if the jobs picture doesn't turn around, staring down Republicans, strutting through photo-ops, and looking really presidential just isn't going to cut it anymore. 

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