In today’s Wall Street Journal (http://bit.ly/WSJToday), I offer advice to this year’s Republican candidates, particularly candidates for the U.S. Senate.
I urge them to remember that, though voters might be alarmed at the president’s performance, they aren’t that wild about the GOP either. Republicans can’t coast. Like the money of that brokerage house in the old commercial, they will have to earn victory the old fashioned way. They must earn it. They will have to tell voters what they want to do in office, not just how the other team has messed up.
Despite the drumbeat of pundits, I have not been all that impressed with the weakness of the president’s polling numbers. Yes, his approval ratings are low. But they are higher than George W. Bush’s at this stage of his presidency and about at the bottom of the president’s range during his first term. According to Rasmussen daily tracking, 46 percent of voters currently approve of Mr. Obama’s performance in office, 53 percent disapprove. At this time in 2012, those numbers were 46 percent versus 54 percent. Please note that the president won that election.
The media has been pummeling the White House for months now about how the president is always on his way to another fundraiser. And it does seem that that he is always departing on another political trip immediately after another appalling statement about another alarming crisis related to another disturbing collapse of his clueless, feckless foreign and national security strategy policies. As I say in this morning’s article, a relevant question this year is, “Are you safer now than you were six years ago?”
But Mr. Obama could be 60 days away from being hailed for his brilliance, focus and discipline. Since his 2012 reelection, his top priority has been to hold the Senate in 2014. Given that his polling hasn’t been much different in the last 12 months than it was in 2010 (meaning his stumping with them will probably hurt most Democratic candidates), the biggest boost Mr. Obama and his team can give their party has been through fundraising. Now think of the time the president has spent on fundraising this past year and a half, or Harry Reid’s bizarre war on the Koch brothers (which party strategists acknowledge is intended to motivate their big donors), or reports of mega-wealthy liberal donors meeting in Chicago in April resolving to spend “hundreds of millions” on the elections. Think even of the president’s much-derided visits to the golf course. Who has been in his foursomes? What did they pay for the honor?
To me all this says that all that Citizens United rhetoric out of the White House was just a way to distract reports from catching on to how they intended to make maximum use of the High Court ruling. By now, the Democrats may be in a position to swamp the 2014 campaign with dollars, drowning out any but the sharpest, clearest Republican message.
In working on the Wall Street Journal article, the most stunning data I found about the state of our economy came from the Economic Policy Institute. The chairman of the EPI’s board is the president of the AFL-CIO. The board is composed mostly of labor union presidents and academics. A couple of Clinton cabinet alumni sit on it, too. In other words, this organization should be friendly to the administration.
But apparently they didn’t get the memo that all economic data must be presented in a manner that reflects well on the administration. For in a report (http://bit.ly/EPIStudy) titled, “The Class of 2014: The Weak Economy is Idling Too Many Young Graduates”, the EPI finds that: “For young college graduates, the unemployment rate is currently 8.5 percent (compared with 5.5 percent in 2007), and the underemployment rate is 16.8 percent (compared with 9.6 percent in 2007). For young high school graduates, the unemployment rate is 22.9 percent (compared with 15.9 percent in 2007), and the underemployment rate is 41.5 percent (compared with 26.8 percent in 2007).”
In other words, combining the unemployment and underemployment numbers, for young college graduates, the total of this new misery index is 25.3 percent. For those with only a high school degree, it is 63.4 percent. For African-American and non-white Hispanic young people, it is “substantially higher.”
This is stunning and alarming data, suggesting lost lives and social turmoil to come. It is directly tied to the collapse of new business creation and growth under the tax, regulate, undermine-the-rule-of-law regime of the last five years. Obamacare is a factor, too. It put additional loads on new and expanding businesses, even as it all but mandated a 30-hour workweek for large categories of jobs. And don’t forget the ratcheting down of credit under Dodd-Frank and recent global banking rules. Now the financial regulators want to lock even asset managers – a relatively unencumbered source of capital — in that pit-and-the-pendulum room.
But as I say, the GOP should not assume it can coast to victory. It is a long, long way from Labor Day to November, and the days are growing short. Being “not the other guys” won’t cut it. Voters will want to know, “What’s in your wallet of solutions?” GOP candidates had better have an answer.