By Ernest Corea
The Labour Department’s Bureau of Statistics recently released its job creation and unemployment statistics for June. The compilation landed with a dull thud, causing concern among the public at large, aggravating the distress suffered by the unemployed, and taking some of the bounce out of the Obama campaign’s momentum.
The closeness of the election contest to date has been attributed in large part to good campaigning. Real Clear Politics (RCP), a web site that aggregates all polling numbers to reach a nationwide average, puts the presidential contest at Obama 47, Romney 44.4. RCP’s figures for the all-important Electoral College are Obama 221, Romney 181. This is much closer than many Republicans want the figures to be, with four months to election day. They want numbers-changing change.
Thus Rupert Murdoch, for instance, the maharajah of right wing newspaper ownership, was reported as follows by the highly regarded webzine Politico: “Met Romney last week. Tough O (bama) Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful,” was the tweet from @rupertmurdoch.”
Murdoch’s newspaper – no, not the British newspaper that was investigated in connection with phone hacking charges, but the prestigious Wall Street Journal – unloaded on the Romney campaign. Overall, the Journal’s assessment was that the Romney team was “slowly squandering an historic opportunity.”
Murdoch’s contemptuous put down of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign methods and style, and similar tellings-off by other head-scratching conservatives, has to worry the Romney campaign. Now, however, government statistics have offered the campaign a much-needed respite, giving it an opening to prepare for the way ahead.
No presidential election is won or lost until the final ballots are counted in November and the result is announced. Even so, the Romney campaign had made many goofy errors – such as, for instance, openly announcing that their approach to campaigning is similar to that of a child playing with his etch-a-sketch toy – that interested observers could not help but wonder whether Romney and his team were in deeper waters than they could navigate. Then came the job figures. Bad news for everybody else but “good”news for Romney and his fellow Republicans was that private sector job creation in June was 90,000 and that the unemployment rate was stuck at 8.2 percent. Job creation in April was 68,000 and in May it was 77,000.
The figures are quite different from those which formed the George W. Bush legacy that President Barack Obama inherited. Under Bush, the unemployment rate shot up from 5.7 percent to almost 10 percent. The reduction of unemployment managed by Obama – from 10 percent to 8.2 percent in three-and-a-half years – is not to be sneezed at. Over 4.3 million jobs have been created.
That is a good foundation for the future, say Obama’s partisans. It is, nevertheless, nowhere near the miraculous economic regeneration that his supporters expected, and those carrying the burden of unemployment and under-employment need. No surprise, then, that Romney did not harrumph and hem and haw around, waiting for his staff to craft a response to the job figures. He dived right in with outright condemnation.
Kick in the Gut
The Hill e-newspaper quoted Romney as saying in New Hampshire: “This kick in the gut has got to stop.” The same report said that Romney blamed the Obama administration for the economy’s poor performance, and said that “it is time for a change.” The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said that “Obama’s policies have failed.” Boehner’s words came as no great surprise. They are consistent with what Republicans in Congress have been saying all along.
Meanwhile, Obama, on a bus tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states that he needs to win if he is to reach that “golden” number of 270 Electoral College votes required for re-election, appeared to be unfazed, at least in public.
Shortly after the job figures were announced, he honoured responders and viewed the damage caused by wild fires in Colorado, signed legislation at the White House that would prevent the doubling of interest rates on loans for 7.4 million students, led a naturalization (citizenship) ceremony for active duty members of the US armed services, and participated in an Independence Day picnic for military families held on the White House lawn.
Clearly, he had decided to face the situation head on, not roll over and ask for a tummy rub. Even as I write (July 09), he is addressing an audience of small businessmen at the White House, and through television and radio, a national audience, urging Congress to pass a Bill that will extend for a year the current tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans earning under $250,000 a year. This would help 97 percent of the country’s small business owners and thereby support growth from the bottom up.
Earlier, on the campaign trail, he emphasized the continuing upward swing in job creation from the early days of his administration, and contrasted that with the calamitous last years of the Bush debacle. He said that the numbers which showed continuing growth, pointed “in the right direction.”
Obama has insisted that the economy was still struggling to break out into a surge, because of a “stalemate in Washington” not because there was anything wrong with his policies. He has repeatedly reminded his audiences of how when others (including Romney) wanted the automobile industry to be left to fail, he had insisted that it should be supported and revived. The alternative would have been a massive increase in unemployment, and a hefty wallop to the American psyche.
Obama’s supporters consider the reinvigoration of the declining US automobile industry the great success story of the 21st century – up to now. American manufacturers are turning out both conventional and innovative models that are popular and selling well here and abroad. In support of the regenerated industry he has moved to challenge China for having levied import duties on American automobiles that the US Government considers protectionist.
Out campaigning, Obama has continued to criticize Romney’s economic ideas, tying them in with Bush’s “tax cuts for the rich” approach, saying it was tried and failed in the decade before he took office, and led to the financial crisis as well as the problems the economy continues to face. “We’ve got to grow the economy even faster and put more people back to work,” he has repeatedly said.
It is too early to assess the effectiveness of Obama’s attempt to place the current economic situation in its context, persuade voters that his administration engineered the upward trend, however weak, and would have done more but for obstructionism in the legislature. There is an often forgotten factor to be taken into account, as well: global economic instability which could at any time affect US recovery efforts adversely. Declining global performance in the months ahead is already being talked about within the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Not the Issue
In another development, the US Supreme Court, which is considered “right leaning”, has declared Obama’s signature legislative achievement the Affordable Care Act constitutional and it is now firmly on the statute books, although the Republican majority in the House of Representatives will seek to eliminate it, in a process that is set to begin on July 11.
To the consternation of many traditional conservatives as well as tea party goers, the deciding vote in favour of what they have called Obamacare (a name that has stuck) was from none other than a Bush appointee, the scholarly Chief Justice, John Roberts. Had his vote gone in the opposite direction, the Affordable Care Act would have been “dead in the water.” Obama’s reputation as a constitutional scholarly would have been destroyed, the country’s uninsured would have been seriously let down yet again, and his campaign would have suffered a near-death ravaging.
Continued antagonism to the health care legislation has been found shocking among those who take it as a great step forward by, for instance, providing health care to over 30 million uninsured Americans. When asked how Republicans proposed to provide that neglected section of the population with health care if they succeeded in tearing down Obamacare, Senator Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader in the upper house said: “That’s not the issue.”
(This is something of a diversion but, for the record, it should be pointed out that health care insurance reform, making it available to the largest possible number, was a lifelong goal of the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Says his son, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy: “The Affordable Care Act represents a giant step forward for every American who lived in fear of bankruptcy because of illness. My father, Ted Kennedy, spent his entire political career fighting tooth and nail for universal health care….. If he were here, he would be proud of what we were able to accomplish.”)
In yet another development, the Supreme Court declared invalid several sections of an Arizona law which sought to make it an offence for an undocumented immigrant to be in the state of Arizona or seek employment there. The only important section of the law kept intact was a provision which allowed the police when stopping a vehicle for some non-immigration matter to ask its occupants for their residence papers. Note that travellers across the length and breadth of the US do not customarily carry immigration documents with them.
This is what Hispanic residents of Arizona call the “Muestreme sus documentos, por favor,” law. Documents can be called for only if the police officers have reason to believe that that parties people in the vehicle they have stopped are illegal residents. It was challenged on the ground that it could lead to racial profiling.
The court turned down the challenge because the law had yet to be implemented, and kept the door open for further challenges when the law is in fact in force. Governor Janice Brewer last received public attention when she wagged a finger in Obama’s face at an Arizona airport. Now, facing defeat, she declared victory.
In addition, Obama launched an executive action that saved large numbers of undocumented, peace-abiding residents from deportation if they had been brought here by their parents when they were unaware of their residence status.
Several of the actions that have been examined above have an impact on the constituency building that has been a hallmark and strength of the Obama campaign from 2008 right up to the present. Women voters, Hispanics (who form a sizeable segment of the voting public), other minorities, those who have no access to health care insurance, and the middle class are included.
But now, consider this. In June, the Romney campaign drew in $106 million, much more than the Obama campaign whose total was $71 million. Some 706,000 voters contributed to the Obama campaign. Many of them sent in relatively small amounts. The Romney campaign is expected to bag another big shot of contributions beginning with a major fund raising dinner. The question that confronts the Obama campaign now, is: Can inclusion and fervour outdo cash flow?
The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.