President Barack Obama's speech to Congress tonight, in which he presented his plan for a $447-billion jobs plan, was an opening salvo in what may prove to be a very long campaign. Obama promised to travel the country, taking the case for the American Jobs Act to the voters. Judging from his job approval rating -- 41 percent for the month of August, according to Gallup -- he has his work cut out for him. He has been bleeding support in recent months, and will have to win over skeptical voters who once believed but have begun to doubt.
Still, in these austerity-minded times, the prospect of $447 billion in federal spending could still be alluring, and the president was able to point to support from business (cue GE chief Jeffrey Immelt in the audience) as well as labor.
To convince the Republicans who control the House of Representatives, and the Senate Republicans who have numbers enough to filibuster every whiff of a notion that might ever dream of becoming law, however, Obama will need to generate support from a public that seems too battered right now to get off the canvas, let alone pick sides in another fight. The White House has the contrast it wants and Obama will no doubt present it in stark terms in the days ahead. On the one hand, salaries for teachers and construction workers and fire fighters. On the other, loopholes for mega-corporations and historically low taxes on historically high incomes. Presented thus, everyone knows which side a majority of voters would choose. But Obama will hardly be the only messenger taking to the airwaves. And his task is larger than making voters idly choose a preference. He has to make them believe that it will matter.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)