Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Election

Hear it?  That’s the sound of the air escaping from the Republican balloon.  The news that the economy netted 243,000 jobs in January dropping the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent – the fifth straight month it has declined – no doubt dealt a serious blow to the doomsayer narrative that the GOP overlords have been spinning now for more than three years.  Since October ’09, when it peaked at 10.1%, the unemployment rate has dropped almost two whole points.  When you add up the employment gains just since last July, the economy has added over 1 million new jobs. 

More encouraging – or discouraging depending on your point of view – is that the trend is heading in the right direction.  Far from petering out, the recovery appears to be gaining momentum.  If the economy can continue netting 200,000 jobs per month, the unemployment rate will drop below that Mason/Dixon line of 8 percent right about the time Mitt Romney is wrapping up his Party’s nomination for President.  By November it might well be hovering around 7.5 percent.

Can you spell oops?

Naturally Republicans were hard at work dismissing the good news.  RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that the January jobs’ numbers “remind us that our economy is far from fixed. That, by the president’s own standard, should make him a one-term president.”  John Boehner chimed in by saying that while the numbers were “welcome news,” unemployment is still “far too high.”  And Eric Cantor “congratulated” President Obama for finally acknowledging GOP initiatives.

And then there was the comment from the used-car salesman from hell: Mittens Romney.  “While we welcome a decline in unemployment, these numbers can't hide the fact that the President's policies have prevented a true recovery.”  Sometimes you get the feeling if Obama came up with a cure for the common cold Republicans would blame him for putting all those cold-remedy providers out of business.

Obama quickly countered his critics who were downplaying the good news by issuing a warning to Congress not to “muck” it up.  “The economy is growing stronger. The recovery is speeding up, and we’ve got to do everything in our power to keep it going.”

Of course the GOP really has no other alternative.  Any praise for Obama, no matter how faint, will deal a fatal blow to their chances in November.  Their only play is to keep piling on in the vein hope that those who are still unemployed and those who are still underemployed will remain frustrated just enough to allow them to accomplish the unthinkable.  The sad truth is the upswing in employment numbers could not have come at a worse time for them.  What was shaping up as a pretty good bet for a clean sweep for the Republicans in 2012 just a year ago, now is looking more and more like a long shot at best. 

Timing is everything in politics.  Just ask John Kerry.  He came this close to defeating George Bush in ’04.  Had the election been held a year later he would’ve cleaned his clock.  That’s the way it goes.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.  For the better part of three years Obama’s policies have been the only thing keeping the country from another Great Depression, but he has been the unluckiest president in history.  Now the tide is beginning to turn.  Slowly but surely the nation is emerging out from under the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.  The glass is more than half filled. 

But while Obama’s opinion polls are climbing, I remain cautiously optimistic.  Sure the jobs’ numbers are strong and the trend hopeful, but there is still a lot of time between now and November.  Anything can happen.  The Euro is still on shaky ground and consumer demand remains anemic.  A couple of bad months of employment numbers could set the economy back on its heals and toss a monkey wrench into the whole mix.  As the New England Patriots found out the hard way a third-quarter lead is meaningless.  You’re up by eight one minute; the next that long bomb down the sidelines ends up costing you the game.

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