For all the human pain it represents, today’s depressing jobs report in the wake of the Democratic and Republican conventions at least helped remind the presidential candidates what this election is supposed to be about — not who gives the best speeches, or who has the most loving (or at least most telegenic) family, but how to get the economy moving again.
You’d think this would come as particularly welcome relief to the Romney/Ryan camp after their muddled, error-prone convention gave them no help in the polls. The bad news could give them a chance to revive an economic message they’d seemingly discarded in favor of made-up attacks over welfare reform and Medicare.
And yet it’s Barack Obama — you know, the guy presiding over the dead-in-the-water economy — who seems to have taken the rhetorical initiative this morning:
And we are fighting to recover from that [recession] — it’s a long, tough journey. But our friends at the Republican convention… they want your vote, but they do not want to show you their plan. And that’s because they know their plan will not sell. That’s because all they have to offer is the same prescriptions they have had for the last 30 years.
Tax cuts, tax cuts, gut some regulations — oh, and more tax cuts. Tax cuts when times are good, tax cuts when times are bad. Tax cuts to help you lose a few extra pounds. Tax cuts to improve your love life. It will cure anything, according to them.
Team Obama’s political analysis is right on the mark here. I wrote last week that “although voters are unsatisfied with the economy, they haven’t given up on this president off the way they did George H.W. Bush (against Clinton) and Jimmy Carter (against Reagan).”
Part of the reason for this is how passive Romney & Co. have been in offering an alternative. If Mitt presented himself as a “different kind of Republican” and gave concrete examples of how he would “focus like a laser beam on this economy,” similar to how Bill Clinton branded himself in 1992, he’d have a better chance of leading the race right now.
But the rigid orthodoxy of the GOP, and the increasing fanaticism of its base, refuse to allow that. So all Romney and Ryan can offer on the campaign trail are the same threadbare talking points Republican candidates have offered in previous elections… which, in turn, undercuts the notion that we’re in some particularly bad crisis that we need this particular presidential nominee (Romney) to lead us out of.
One of the reasons you heard so much emphasis on the auto bailout during the Democratic convention is that it drives home (sorry) a tangible message that at least Obama has gotten something right on the economy. With his opponents offering nothing but recycled slogans, that may be enough to carry him to reelection.