When our kids were young and going on field trips, one of our favorite places to visit was Pendleton Woolen Mills in Oregon. The whole process fascinated me-from carding to spinning to dyeing to weaving-but of particular fascination was the splicing operation. With apologies for my faulty memory, it went something like this: Spools of yarn were loaded onto spindles along the lower edge of the machine, and the yarn was fed through sensing devices that detected weaknesses or breaks. Behind the row of spindles and threads, a mechanical arm ticked back and forth. Whenever a weakness was detected, the yarn would stop at a predetermined spot as the steel arm zoomed into place behind it, reaching out, folding over, and splicing together-zip! The repaired yarn quickly moved on to an overhead bobbin and the splicer resumed its ceaseless tracking. It happened almost too fast to see.
The Obama administration is billing itself as a kind of splicing arm, swooping up behind weaknesses in the national fabric, exclaiming "We can't wait!" announcing a fix-debt relief for college students, mortgage relief for homeowners-and flying off in search of new wrongs to right (because Republicans refuse to play ball and would rather play politics, etc.). President Obama would be glad to do things constitutionally if only the Constitution didn't get in the way. As it is, since his trillion-dollar American Jobs Act failed to pass a duly elected House of Representatives (the ones who are authorized to hold the purse strings), Obama must get the job done piecemeal by executive order because "We can't wait." (See WORLD's current cover story "Command & control" by Edward Lee Pitts.)
The latest implementation of this strategy is the Summer Jobs Initiative, which was announced last Thursday. It's not exactly rich in detail: loosely described as a "partnership" between the federal government and the private sector, wherein corporations would be encouraged (how?) to create mentoring, shadowing, and temp jobs, particularly for disadvantaged youth. Commitments that have already come in are a bit puzzling. For example, Viacom has agreed to train 10 college students. Ten. College students, not restless teens hoping to get a foot in the job market door. Discovery Channel will likewise set up 300 internships for college students, which is generous, but-considering that the corporation already has a Discover Your Skills program in place-not too much of a stretch.
Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, is not impressed:
"Ironically, after gluing the feet of the private sector to the floor through more regulations, higher taxes, and an anti-business/anti-job creation agenda, [the Obama administration is] now asking employers to run full speed ahead and hire young workers. The reality is that the private sector would already be hiring … were it not for the extreme amount of government intervention in the private sector through job-killing regulations and taxes."
Minimum-wage laws contribute to that lethal mix, as well as failure to control immigration, and calcified bright ideas from yesteryear, such as the Summer Work Travel program. SWT, administered by the U.S. State Department, is a "cultural exchange" that welcomes about 100,000 international students to the United States every summer to wait tables, clerk, process, pick, and do hundreds of other jobs that American kids could do just as well (but less culturally, I suppose).
The Obama administration won't notice because they're already rushing to the next frayed yarn, reaching, folding, splicing, and looking busy. This is another way of leading from behind: Zoom here and there to patch up trouble spots, and ignore the increasingly hopeless tangle of threads that the federal machine has become. That is, until the machine breaks down.