It’s the econ­omy, San­to­rum

Noth­ing mat­ters to vot­ers as much as jobs

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Don­ald Lambro

At a time when Amer­i­cans con­sider the lack­lus­ter Obama econ­omy to be the No. 1 is­sue fac­ing the coun­try, Rick San­to­rum this week was sug­gest­ing that other is­sues de­serve equal treat­ment.

That may be OK for those who have a se­cure job and have never been un­em­ployed. How­ever, most Amer­i­cans, ac­cord­ing to all the polls, still rate the econ­omy and jobs at the top of their list of ma­jor con­cerns.

Yet there was the for­mer two-term se­na­tor from Penn­syl­va­nia on Mon­day in the final 24-hour run-up to the Su­per Tues­day pri­maries dis­mis­sively ask­ing: What’s with all this fo­cus on the econ­omy?

Sug­gest­ing that for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, his chief ri­val for the nom­i­na­tion, was a John­ny­one-note on the econ­omy’s trou­bles, Mr. San­to­rum told a few hun­dred peo­ple at the Day­ton Chris­tian School in Mi­amis­burg, Ohio, that there were other im­por­tant prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try, “not just how we’re go­ing to man­age the econ­omy bet­ter.”

“This coun­try is more than just the econ­omy,” he said in a state whose econ­omy has been strug­gling for years and where the un­em­ploy­ment rate is at least 8 per­cent.

Where has Mr. San­to­rum been liv­ing the past four years? In a cave? Is that the cam­paign line he’s go­ing to run on should he be the GOP’S pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee?

Mr. Rom­ney has been fo­cused like a laser beam on the is­sue that polls show is Pres­i­dent Obama’s weak­est: the lack­lus­ter, job-chal­lenged econ­omy. He has not only fo­cus­ing on its weak­ness, but com­par­ing his life­long busi­ness ca­reer cre­at­ing jobs to Mr. San­to­rum’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer in Congress, where he rarely talked about jobs be­cause the Penn­syl­va­nia se­na­tor was too busy lead­ing the charge on so­cial, cul­tural and re­li­gious is­sues.

“The econ­omy is what I do, it’s what I know, it’s what I’ve done. I haven’t just de­bated about it. I haven’t just talked about it on sub­com­mit­tees. I’ve ac­tu­ally done it — started busi­nesses, run busi­nesses. I know how to do it,” Mr. Rom­ney said Mon­day.

If any­thing, his speeches in re­cent weeks have dou­bled down on eco­nomic is­sues as he has re­lated sto­ries of how he has taken small startup busi­nesses like Sta­ples and turned them into suc­cess­ful global en­ter­prises and ma­jor job cre­ators.

He knows what has been killing jobs in this econ­omy: ex­ces­sive tax­a­tion that erodes a busi­ness’s bot­tom line; gov­ern­ment man­dates that heap pun­ish­ing new costs on small busi­nesses that they can’t af­ford; the fail­ure to open up new ex­port mar­kets for U.S. prod­ucts over­seas; and a mas­sive, in­ef­fi­cient tax code and jun­gle of reg­u­la­tions that im­pede in­no­va­tion, risk-tak­ing and in­vest­ment.

This isn’t a time to get side­tracked by sec­ondary is­sues that dis­tract us from the cen­tral is­sue of our time: mak­ing our econ­omy healthy again, with growth rates of 4 per­cent or more, not the sickly 1 per­cent to 2 per­cent rates un­der Mr. Obama’s “new nor­mal” eco­nomic poli­cies.

In re­cent weeks, the net­work news shows have been ped­dling the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s line that the econ­omy is back, grow­ing again and do­ing a lot bet­ter. Readers of this col­umn know I’ve dis­agreed with that on a num­ber of fun­da­men­tal lev­els.

The real, na­tional long-term job­less rate is much higher than the gov­ern­ment tells us, i.e., 9 per­cent or more, with a 19 per­cent un­der­em­ploy­ment rate that in­cludes peo­ple forced to work fewer hours or at tem­po­rary jobs. A puny 1.7 per­cent eco­nomic growth rate last year is noth­ing to brag about, ei­ther.

Let’s add an­other dev­as­tat­ing fac­tor to the com­plaints about the Obama econ­omy that the net­work news shows aren’t re­port­ing: Nearly half of Amer­i­cans say the econ­omy “is in ei­ther a re­ces­sion or a de­pres­sion,” ac­cord­ing to a new Gallup poll out this week.

When Gallup asked Amer­i­cans across the coun­try, “Do you think the U.S. econ­omy is grow­ing, slow­ing down, in a re­ces­sion or in an eco­nomic de­pres­sion?” they got this re­sponse:

Forty per­cent said it was grow­ing, which, of course, it is, though at his­tor­i­cally sub­par growth rates that will not pro­duce the 300,000 or more jobs per month needed to bring na­tional un­em­ploy­ment lev­els down to 6 per­cent or less for sev­eral years.

But 27 per­cent also replied that we’re still in a re­ces­sion, 19 per­cent said a de­pres­sion, and 13 per­cent said the econ­omy was “slow­ing down.” Only 2 per­cent had no opin­ion.

So a whopping 59 per­cent be­lieve this econ­omy isn’t do­ing so hot. I’ll leave it for you to de­cide why this didn’t make the nightly news or the front pages of Amer­ica’s news­pa­pers.

It should come as no sur­prise that 50 per­cent or more of those who re­sponded pos­i­tively about the econ­omy had “a po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion,” as Gallup put it: “Democrats, non­whites, and self-de­scribed lib­er­als.”

As for Repub­li­cans, just 26 per­cent said the econ­omy was grow­ing, but so what? The is­sue is the strength of that growth rate.

But the poll num­bers con­tain yet an­other warn­ing sign for the White House and the Obama cam­paign that hasn’t es­caped the at­ten­tion of Rom­ney cam­paign strate­gists.

The re­sponses from po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dents to the state of the econ­omy was closer to how Repub­li­cans see it than to the Democrats’ per­spec­tive. A lit­tle more than a third of the in­de­pen­dents said the econ­omy was grow­ing, while half say it is in re­ces­sion or de­pres­sion.

That lit­tle bomb­shell in the poll should trig­ger tremors in the Obama camp and raise doubts in those in the pun­dit class who think Mr. Obama can­not be beaten.

For­get “the econ­omy is com­ing back” hype the news me­dia have been pro­mot­ing shame­lessly. In the fourth year of Mr. Obama’s pres­i­dency, there are still 15 states where the job­less rate is be­tween 9 per­cent and 13 per­cent, in­clud­ing key swing states such as Ne­vada, Florida and Ari­zona.

That’s why Mr. Rom­ney is stay­ing fo­cused on the econ­omy. It is the is­sue that is go­ing to de­cide Mr. Obama’s fate.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY HUNTER

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