Hey campaigns! Remember the jobs crisis?

October 12, 2012

Does anyone remember we have a jobs crisis in this country?

I ask because, having watched the two debates so far, I've not heard a word of serious hope for the unemployed. The jobs crisis has become, in politics, little more than an attack line. It's something you reference because you have to, not because you have a serious plan to do anything about it.


Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday night, moderator Martha Raddatz asked the two candidates, Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan whether they could guarantee unemployment would fall below 6 percent, and if so, by when?

Biden, to his credit, refused to give a date. But he also refused to give a mechanism. He said things are getting better. He segued into a hit on Romney's 47 percent comments. And then he started talking about the Bush tax cuts. He didn't even mention the administration's main jobs policy, the American Jobs Act.

Ryan began by making a flatly untrue statement about unemployment. He said it's risen from 8.5 percent to 10 percent in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pa., and that's how it's been all across the country. That's just false. Unemployment has been coming down, and is now lower than it was during Obama's first full month in office. Then we got the five-point plan:

It’s a five-point plan. Get America energy independent in North America by the end of the decade. Help people who are hurting get the skills they need to get the jobs they want. Get this deficit and debt under control to prevent a debt crisis.

Make trade work for America so we can make more things in America and sell them overseas, and champion small businesses. Don’t raise taxes on small businesses because they’re our job creators.

There's absolutely nothing in that plan that's responsive to the ongoing jobs crisis. That's true even if you think every single element of that plan is a brilliant long-term move for the economy. We didn't suddenly become energy dependent in 2008, and our workers didn't lose all their skills when Lehman collapsed. 

In both debates, taxes have taken up far more time than jobs plans, and for good reason: Both the Obama and Romney campaigns actually have tax plans. There's something to argue over. At this point, they either don't have a real jobs plan (Romney) or they've stopped pushing their jobs plan (Obama), and so there's nothing for them to argue over.

Back in January, I predicted this would happen. In a column on what would matter in the 2012 election, I wrote:

Taxes: The easy line is that this election is going to be about jobs. I think it's going to be about taxes. Three reasons: First, because a big tax cut is at the core of Romney's policies for how to create jobs and a big tax increase on the top two percent is at the core of Obama's thinking on how to reduce inequality. Second, because the GOP's top priority is tax cuts and the top priority among liberals right now is raising taxes on the rich. Third, because Republicans think they have a winning issue in painting Obama as a tax hiker and Democrats think they have a winning issue in painting Romney as George W. Bush 2.0. In other words, the two (likely) candidates' platforms, parties, and polling all push in the direction of emphasizing taxes very heavily.

So I'm not surprised to see taxes dominating the discussion. But I wouldn't have predicted -- I wouldn't even have considered -- that the candidates would spend so little time talking about how to create jobs.

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