Republicans And The Economy – Good News Is Bad News…unless they make it

by George Kennedy on February 7, 2012

…What’s with the GOP? 

The headlines, “3-Year High For The Dow As Wall St. Cheers Data” (by Christine Hauser, NYT 2/4/12) or “Job Gains Reflect Hope A Recovery Is Blooming” (by Motoko Rich, NYT, 2/4/12) offer encouragement to a beleaguered electorate.

The news regarding job growth likely resonated well among the unemployed and the underemployed.

Republicans And The Economy – Good News Is Bad News…unless they make itAt a minimum, Republicans should be pro-growth irrespective of their feelings toward President Obama, or whoever sits in the Oval Office.  This would probably be the case if the occupant were a Republican.  That aside, strengthening a fragile economic recovery is good for the country including many of the voters back in Republican districts.

To publicly denigrate the recent good news from the Labor Department and Wall Street as Speaker Boehner and presidential aspirants Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich continue to do should have been challenged by the media to ensure a measure of balance.  Moreover, there should have been more aggressive push back from Democrats at all levels to frame the negative attacks in a larger, more positive, context.

Is it possible that Speaker Boehner’s comments at his news conference last Friday might put him at odds with many voters, including perhaps some from his Congressional District?  He is still an elected official with an obligation that transcends party affiliation.

Romney and Gingrich remain aspirants.  Their respective obligations to truth and accuracy when discussing important issues are dictated by the requirements of their individual quests for the Republican nomination.  Today, people want to be hopeful about a possible economic recovery, even those who do not intend to vote for the President this fall.

Let’s begin with John Boehner.  The Speaker may have reinforced the belief among independents that his party’s intransigence toward White House initiatives this past year was misguided.  Also, there could be the growing perception among the same voters that success in growing the economy, according to the GOP, can only have a Republican parent.

Perhaps an alternate approach on the Speaker’s part would have been to laud the success reported by the Labor Department and attribute that success to a President who reluctantly agreed to cooperate with him and his party on behalf of the working people of America.  This approach might strain credulity, but at least it represents a different narrative than just the usual throwing mud on the parade.

In other words, frame his interpretation of the news as “Bipartisanship Creates Jobs For American Workers.”   So, did the Speaker miss an opportunity to recast the image of the House where his party is in control?  The question is germane given the low public approval ratings for the Congress, especially the House of Representatives.

FOX News could have scripted the comments from presidential aspirants Gingrich and Romney.  During an interview with David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Gingrich preferred to focus on the length of the recession, the price of gasoline, and the national debt as the potential Achilles Heel for the President this fall.

To throw even more cold water on the improving jobs picture, Gingrich observed “that the reduced rate of participation in the labor force has contributed to the decline, and he said broader measures of unemployment that count people who can’t find jobs or who aren’t looking because they don’t think jobs are available are still in the double digits.”

Mitt Romney, often on many sides of an issue, allowed that the President inherited a bad economy.  He then went on to suggest “the President only made it worse.”  This is following 23 months of job growth.  No one challenged him on this assertion.  No one asked how the situation was “made worse.”

Speaker Boehner’s response to the positive news on the jobs’ front continues to mystify some of us because of the positive news from Wall Street.  To offer a little context, Wall Street’s gains (profits and bonuses) under President Obama exceeded those realized under his predecessor, George W. Bush.  It is ironic that in this election, Wall Street’s elite is throwing the bulk of its financial support to Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney and not the President.  Is it that Wall Street just prefers a Republican in the White House?

Republicans are adept at framing a message.  Gingrich and Romney do this well thus far because they are speaking to their base.  They are likely meeting expectations in advancing the narrative that the President has been a colossal failure with regard to the economy.  The President’s record of actual performance is less important to them.  Critical to GOP political fortunes this year is their ability to frame the economic narrative among their likely voters and independents.

On a personal level, Speaker Boehner also may have reinforced the image of an ineffectual leader held hostage by a vocal Tea Party faction whose only response to everything is “No!”  We don’t know this to be the case in this instance, but this explanation may ring more true than not.

Good economic news on any President’s watch accrues to his credit – at least temporarily – as would bad news.  Is the object not how best to position the GOP strategically?  Why?  Should the economy and the jobs picture continue to improve in the months ahead, the GOP, especially Speaker Boehner, may not want to appear to be living in an alternate universe.  Reality will intrude.  Robert Reich notes, “Voters respond to economic trends as much as they respond to absolute levels of economic reality.”  The trend for job growth under this President is positive.

The idea should be to accept good news as good news.  At least appear to project the image of leadership rather than the image of a disciple of pure partisanship.  Here is why.  There is an inconsistency in the Speaker’s partisan rhetoric the media fails to call him on.  Publicly, the Speaker often says, “The government does not create jobs; that is the role of the private sector.”  He then defaults to his familiar refrain:  “Mr. President, where are the jobs?”

The Labor Department’s snapshot of the job market “makes clear that employers have been hiring more in recent months, with 243,000 in January.”  The Speaker, again, asked, “Mr. President, where are the jobs?”  Is the Speaker suggesting that he and his party can only accept the creation of a fixed number of new jobs?  Or, that the unemployment level should have dropped by a fixed number of percentage points?  What would represent good news to him?

There are more jobs in the country than in the last 23 months.  The question for Speaker Boehner should have been:  “Mr. Speaker, what is the House prepared to do to increase the number of new jobs going forward?”  Or, try this one:  “Mr. Speaker, there has been a slow, but steady rate of new, private sector jobs created during the Obama Administration.  To what does he attribute this growth?”  We would want to hear his response to these questions.

Speaking from a more strategic perspective, the Speaker, or any GOP spokesperson, would then have been positioned to set forth specific policy proposals that, with bipartisan support, could strengthen job growth in the period ahead.  This sounds advisory but, then, it is.  Citizens have a right to do that.

All of us want to see more good private jobs created.  All of us want to see less rancor and less partisanship in Washington.  And, all of us want government, without regard to party, to be effective on our behalf.   A more positive approach to good news would have suggested the speaker is not another messenger for the negative narrative we have come to expect from the GOP.

Perhaps the problem for the GOP is the economy has not taken a serious turn for the worse as some Republicans had projected – or hoped.  The uphill climb for them is this:  The President took a risk with his stimulus bill and it produced results.  A number of Republican members of both the House and the Senate wrote letters to the Obama Administration requesting stimulus funds (which they received) to create jobs.  This is a matter of public record.  If the media does not remind the voters of this, should not the Democrats or the Obama White House?

The fortunes of the auto industry have been revived.  Was it not Mitt Romney and several other Republicans who advised the White House to let the auto industry fail?  GM is, again, the leading auto manufacturer in the world today and their stock is up 7 percent.  Did presidential aspirant Mitt Romney also not publicly suggest that we let the foreclosure market run its course?  See more homeowners lose their homes.

Facts can be inconvenient or, worse yet, irrelevant to the GOP.  The private sector has added over 3.7 million jobs in 23 months with 11 months remaining in the President’s first term.  We have witnessed the creation of the most manufacturing jobs since 1990 – during the term of this president.  The unemployment level has fallen to 8.3 percent.  Would this record be touted as a success were the President a Republican?

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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