The Daily Show on the Debate

I cannot believe I missed this.  This is golden.  Warning:  It is the Daily Show.

The Daily Show on the Debate.

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The Unemployment Rate

New broke in the middle of Friday morning that the unemployment rate had dropped from 8.1% to 7.8%, he lowest rate since President Obama took office.  Hooray!  Right?  It probably depends on which candidate you’re supporting for President.  Democrats are trumpeting this as proof that the President’s policies are working:  “We’ve made it back through the mess to where we started” has been the general refrain (James Taranto has one of my favorite tweets about this reaction).

I was surprised by the number.  I had heard through Twitter that economists expected the rate to remain at 8.1% or jump to 8.2% (less likely) and were not expecting a drop in the number.  So when it happened there was some immediate skepticism from the right about the legitimacy of the numbers.  Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was one of the first to publicly express some doubts about the numbers.  He was promptly blasted by the MSM and praised by hard core government skeptic conservatives.  In order to give Jack Welch an opportunity to defend himself, please check out his interview with Chris Matthews, where he explains his opinion fully.

What then do we make of these numbers?  First, let us note that conservatives are skeptical of the government.  There are some who believe the government is evil, and liberals are quick to claim they represent the majority of those on the right in an effort to discredit them and the right’s attempts to contribute to media coverage.  Second, let us note that as President, President Obama has some power to influence things.  Jay Cost with The Weekly Standard went through a long list of past presidential election manipulation that is worth reading for the history lesson.  And the reminder that Presidents (and Congressmen) will do anything to preserve their jobs.  I point this out because we must remember the President, like any CEO, Congressman, salesperson or assembly line worker, is interested in keeping his job.  He may be more interested because his directly affects his public legacy unlike any other (think very quickly about your opinions of Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, the last two presidents to lose their reelection campaign.  The public psyche assumes they were far lessor presidents that Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush because they failed to secure a second term).

Naturally, the Romney campaign has dived into the numbers and expressed skepticism in the validity of the numbers, stating simply “this is not what a real recovery looks like“.  The biggest surprise about the BLS report is the discrepancy between the two surveys they reference (and the reason the right is rolling their eyes at this).  Again, stated simply, The Household Survey showed a gain of 873,000 people employed in September – resulting in the surprise drop in the unemployment rate – while the Establishment Survey only showed a rise of 114,000 [people employed].” So one survey shows 114,000 new jobs added, and another showed 873,000 more people employed.  Throw in that this is the single largest drop in the unemployment rate in 29 years in a period of time when other economic indicators are showing stagnation across much of the economy, and you can queue the right’s head scratching and, honestly, I think it is completely legitimate.

The president will be trumpeting this for the next month, as he should, and Romney’s response is going to have to be strong.  He can state, simply and accurately, that the primary reason for this drop is workforce participation keeps dropping, and he is accurate.  How much of this is due to the retirement of elderly workers as the American workforce ages is up for debate (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago says potentially as much as half).  Either way, Romney can argue the rate would be 8.5% is the same people were working now as in January of 2012, and that the rate would be around 10.7%.  It is a convincing counterargument if it is heeded, and only time will tell if it is.  The heat has been turned up.

Edit:  Just had this thought:  does this mean President Obama thinks he is vulnerable on the economy and unemployment rate?  I would argue yes.  Romney probably needs to keep the attacks up.

Convention Thoughts

Confession time:  I do not particularly enjoy the conventions.

As I have considered politics I have concluded there are three streams always running through every discussion pertaining to politics.  The first, and the most obvious one, is messaging.  Messaging encompasses what we see daily on networks and cable news.  All sides arguing for their opinion and trying to “message” their message and ideas to others.  Messaging typically breaks people down into groups or classes by race, ethnicity, state, gender, etc., and attempts to tell each group something they’ll like to build a coalition.  This is the most “political” of the three streams and the one I dislike the most.  Usually, it is based in fact and inconvenient facts are cast aside (one example).  The second stream is what I call the “policy” stream.  This stream considers “realities” and attempts to decipher which idea, which policy, is best.  The third and final stream is the philosophy stream, which deals with ideology of each side, what their worldviews are rooted in, where their biases and blindsides are, and how that encourages their thought.

All three of these are interconnected.  I prefer policy discussions (auto bailout versus no auto bailout, tax cuts versus status quo versus tax increases) and looking at political philosophy over messaging, but without messaging no good idea can gain traction.  Someone has to talk about it, and they must speak well and in a convincing manner.

Which brings me to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  Or the Republican and Democratic Messaging parties.  Every pundit and junkie out there is talking about each sides messaging and whether it worked.  Did the Republicans humanize Mitt Romney and emphasize their “job builder” and “company builder” credentials enough to appeal to those who are without jobs?  Did the Democrats convince Americans Paul Ryan’s budget is bad and President Obama is still the same Obama you fell in love with in 2008?  We will see.  Polling coming out September 14th and September 17th will give us a good idea of where each party leaves the convention.

But this polling only tells us what people are thinking (or feeling) post convention.  Does that really give us a heartbeat on the American psyche after 4 years of President Obama’s administration?  Sort of, but I wonder whether his “likable” or “popularity” ratings in November is going to matter.  Neither the Republicans and Democrats laid out a clear and concise plan for the next 4 years (Mitt Romney’s plan to create jobs was a template) and I believe the side that starts talking about exactly how they plan to achieve their goals has a really good chance of pulling ahead at the final weeks.  Ideas (and good messaging) are going to win this election and I firmly believe the side that fails to talk about specifics is going to lose.

Romney-Ryan 2012

One of the first posts on A Slice of Polis, dated August 30, 2008, commented on the pick of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s VP running mate against the Obama-Biden ticket (Obama had selected Biden about 1 week before) and immediately stole the spotlight from the media show that was Barack Obama for President (I will ignore for now the post recommending that McCain pick Kay Bailey Hutchison by my colleague).  The pick fired up the conservative base, consolidating it behind a less than exciting candidate.  Palin has been the subject of so many left wing media jokes about foreign policy, Alaska, Momma grizzly bears, and her song Trig, that what was lost in the pick was the risk McCain took.  He pick a nobody, with zero experience (granted a bit more than then Senator Obama), as a lightning rod.

Ultimately the pick did not work, though I believe this had more to do with the economy slipping into recession than McCain, Palin, or then Senator Obama.  Obama running on hope and change coincided very nicely with the economic downturn, just as FDR’s election 76 years earlier fed off of Herbert Hoover’s atrocious economic decisions and the Fed’s incompetent handling of the beginnings of the Great Depression, propelling him to an election less about him and more about him not being the other guy.

This brings me right into Romney’s decision to select Paul Ryan as his running mate.  There will be speculation about why Romney made this selection.  I think it shows us a couple of things about Romney.  First, he is focused on the economy and the conservative vision of how the government interacts with it.  Second, he wants the economy to be the story, and a Ryan pick should steer the conversation in that direction.  Third, Romney wants the debate to be about policy this cycle, rather than popularity. “likability” (which is a dumb polling metric), and good looks.  Need-to-dos rather than want-to-dos.  Economic growth rather than government growth.  A friend of mine sent me a text this morning and said he has heard more substantive policy discussion this morning (it is 8:19am CST as I write this sentence) than we’ve heard for months, including in the Republican Presidential Primaries.  For that I rejoice.  Fourth, Romney wants this election to be about Obama’s record.  Fifth, Romney thinks he can make Obama’s record, particularly on the economy and probably to a lesser degree on his policy of government expansion, the story of the election.

Sixth, Romney thinks he can win the messaging war.  I will conclude with this point because it is why Romney chose Paul Ryan.  If Romney did not believe he could win a war of messaging (this includes, in my definition, both positive messaging about your campaign/candidate, and negative messaging about your opponent) and a war of ideas he would have picked a personality firebrand like Chris Christie or rising star like Marco Rubio (I do believe Rubio would have been an incredible pick.  His time is coming.).  I believe this is a good thing for the country and the election as a whole.  Political theater requires crazy attacks and stupid stuff to be said by nutcases in order to maintain some semblance of spotlight in between messaging cycles, but the craziness needs to be sandwiched between legitimate and productive discussion of ideas.  Romney is telling Obama he is going to have a conversation about ideas in this election.

If President Obama agrees to discuss ideas or responds with continued slandering and negative attacks remains to be seen.  Strap on your seat belts and please dress responsibly.  There will be plenty of mud thrown around until November and everyone is going to get hit.