For all the pontificating and prophesying I do ’round here it’s easy for me to forget the elegant truth dropped on us back in the day. Mr. James Carville brilliantly summed up nearly all elections in 4 words: It’s the economy, stupid.
Today’s awful jobs numbers and stock market cave-in are very bad news for the Obama campaign. He’s needed a positive narrative for some time now. The opportunity for one to emerge is now greatly diminished. Obama’s wiggle room on this front was the nominally improving economy. (If , in November, people feel the economy is inching along in the right direction, they probably stick with the incumbent.) It will take a stunning economic reversal over the summer – a miracle, in fact – for people to feel good about the economy. Europe is boxed in. China is slowing. It’s hard to see where the miracle would come from. But then there’s always Ben…
It appears now that only Bernanke has the power to save the Obama economy. Another round of quantitative easing (That is: created money artificially shoved into the system.) might float us until the first Tuesday in November. But the first 2 rounds of easing haven’t created sustained job growth. Would a third? Doubtful. It will help the stock market to recover. But that won’t last either. The amount of easing it would take to jump-start confidence at this point would shoot commodity prices to the stratosphere.
This election is about competence. Implied in Carville’s political truth is that a candidate must present as competent on economic matters. He or she doesn’t have to be competent, they just have to present as competent. Romney usually does. Obama often does not. This is why attacking Romney’s record as governor is smart. (Though given the shallowness of the Obama campaign so far, it may well be ineffective.) Since Obama doesn’t have a viable positive narrative he must assault Romney’s record in government to survive the bad economy. He must show us that when Romney was chief executive of a state he wasn’t competent. Hope for Obama supporters: This is possible. There are reasons Romney did not run for re-election.
If I where in charge of the Obama campaign I would have done the opposite of what they did. That is: My talking points would have been to complement Romney’s private sector prowess, then hammer his public service record. I would have drawn a bright line between the private sector and government service. I live in a state that just suffered for 6 years because of the delusion that a successful business man will automatically translate into a succesful governor. Business acumen does not always equal political leadership. If Axelrod was the political strategist he’s feted as being he would have seen this dichotomy and exploited it. Now it’s too late to do a 180 on Bain. But they can still trash Romney’s record as Governor. It doesn’t need to be – and won’t be – fair. Given today’s jobs numbers what other choice does Obama have?