It’s the latest talking point on the right: The Obama stimulus has cost the taxpayers $278,000 per job created. That number comes from a Weekly Standard article from over the weekend, and House Speaker John Boehner promoted the story today on Twitter.

The Weekly Standard reached this conclusion by dividing the cost of the stimulus bill so far, $666 billion, by the Council of Economic Advisers’ low-end estimate of the number of jobs created by the stimulus, 2.4 million. The Standard concluded: “The government could simply have cut a $100,000 check to everyone whose employment was allegedly made possible by the `stimulus,’ and taxpayers would have come out $427 billion ahead.”

But the Standard story doesn’t take into account the fact that jobs aren’t the only thing that has been created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It also has funded infrastructure improvements and factory construction, as well as investments in education, as White House spokesperson Liz Oxhorn was quick to point out in an emailed statement:

“This study is based on partial information and false analysis. The Recovery Act was more than a measure to create and save jobs; it was also an investment in American infrastructure, education and industries that are critical to America’s long-term success and an investment in the economic future of America’s working families. Thanks to the Recovery Act, 110 million working families received a tax cut through the Making Work Pay tax credit, over 110,000 small businesses received critical access to capital through $27 billion in small business loans and more than 75,000 projects were started nationwide to improve our infrastructure, jump-start emerging industries and spur local economic development.”

As Jake Tapper notes, the White House has long pushed back hard on the math of dividing the stimulus’s cost by the number of jobs created. The White House’s preferred metric is the one found in the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s most recent report on the stimulus, which found that its policies raised GDP by as much as 3.1 percent and increasted the number of full-time employed people by as much as 3.3 million.

Putting aside whether it’s even possible to accurately calculate the stimulus’s cost per job created, the aggressive White House pushback — combined with the DNC’s rapid response to Mitt Romney’s continued false claim that Obama made the recession worse — show how central the argument over the stimulus will be to the 2012 campaign. With this in mind, it’s key to grasp exactly what this argument is about.

Obama and Dems are trying to offset his vulnerability over high unemployment by arguing that by various metrics, his policies have begun to engineer a turnaround. In response to this, Romney and other Republicans need to persuade voters that the stimulus not only had no efficacy at all, but that it exacerbated our problems, in order to make the case that Obama’s approach to the economy is ideologically wrongheaded and a fundamental failure with no redeeming value whatsoever. Hence Romney’s claim that Obama made the recession “worse,” and hence the Weekly Standard’s claim that the stimulus cost far more per job created than the salaries paid by those jobs. With polls showing that Americans still blame Bush more than Obama for the economy, the GOP’s best hope of turning this election into a negative referendum on Obama’s performance is is to persuade Americans that his policies have caused us to slide further backwards, rather than edging us forward at too slow a pace. So you’ll be seeing this argument taking a variety of forms, only the first of which we’re seeing now.