There’s few hard and fast rules in politics, but when it comes to the national campaign, there’s one that trumps them all: it’s the economy, stupid. No matter the time or circumstances, if the incumbent is presiding over a weak economy, that’s automatically going to be the number one issue, bar none. No exceptions, whatsoever. And that applies to the slugfest we find ourselves immersed in, day in and day out.
By now, the argument that malaise was caused by George W. Bush carries no water, and the Romney campaign is making full use of that. The April jobs report from the Commerce Department came out this morning, and it did not meet expectations. This is the second month in a row that it came in lower than expectations. In December, January and February, the economy was adding, on average, about 250,000 jobs a month. Now, that figure is clocking in much lower, at only around 115,000. This rate of job expansion is enough only to cover demographic growth, and not really put a dent in the overall unemployment rate, which dropped to a new recent low of 8.1%.
Romney immediately seized on the jobs report, calling it a disappointment and saying that we could be doing better. True to form, I’m sure he believes every word of what he says, as politicians tend to believe every word that drops from their mouths when it comes to the economy. We have a long tradition in this country of our elected officials taking credit where none is warranted for them, and getting blame shoveled on them when there’s also no cause. When times are good (think back to the 1990s) politicians of every political stripe claimed responsibility for the economic boom that swept the country. And when the economy tanked, those in office felt the wrath of the voters.
The fact of the matter is that aside from setting federal policies that affect the nation as a whole (think tax, labor, infrastructure and regulatory policy) that require years to impact the economy, there’s not a whole hell of a lot that the federal government can do to affect job creation. It’s comforting to tell voters that there is, because it gives us a sense of being in control of the economy, a sense that’s largely illusory. Jobs come, jobs go, but there’s no magical wand our elected officials can just wave around to create those jobs we so desperately crave. They will tell you there is, and they surely believe what they say, but there isn’t.