The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Insiders: The Republicans need to make the election about the economy

Over the weekend, Dan Balz wrote a piece for The Post, “Voters are shifting to Democrats, flashing a warning for Republicans,” highlighting a new Gallup poll that shows 46 percent of Americans identify as Democrats or as independents who lean Democratic and 41 percent identify as Republicans or as independents who lean Republican. In analyzing that shift, Balz writes that for Republicans running for president in 2016, “the principles and values they stand for and the fights they decide to take on will determine their success.” Balz mostly focuses on Republicans’ differences with Democrats on issues like same-sex marriage, climate change and Obamacare. But I think the biggest disconnect between the Republicans and Democrats is related to the economy and job growth. Increasingly, our country’s two main political parties aren’t just noisily bickering about how to handle the economy; we are really seeing the world and opportunity in two vastly different ways.

Republicans and Democrats both have their standard talking points about the need to improve the economy and stimulate job creation. But when Republicans talk about the economy, they’re talking about boosting the private sector and expanding development.  When Democrats talk about the economy, they’re mostly talking about growing the public sector and increasing government benefits.

And, we just don’t see employment in America the same way. The latest jobs report is a perfect example.  Under President Obama, more than 13 million people have dropped out of the labor force entirely.  The labor force participation rate is a staggeringly low 62.6 percent – the lowest level since October 1977.  And, contrary to what the Democrats would have you believe, the lower labor force participation rate is not simply a by-product of baby boomers retiring.  The labor force participation rate for those aged 25-54 – or those who are prime working age – dropped by 0.2 percent in the last month alone, down to the lowest level since 1984.

In fact, just like overall economic growth, job creation under President Obama has been weak. But still the president frequently points out that during his time in office, a net six million private sector jobs were created. That may be factually accurate, but it’s not nearly enough to keep pace with population growth or our entitlement benefit commitments.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry broke through with a salient fact on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” this weekend, telling Stephanopoulos that from 2007-2014, over 1.5 million jobs were created in Texas alone.  And what kind of jobs are widely prevalent in Texas?  Jobs in the oil and gas field and in the petrochemical industry.  The last time I checked, President Obama didn’t run on a platform of increased fracking or a shale gas revolution in order to help the United States economy recover.  But those industries helped create jobs and contributed to lower gasoline prices around the country, both of which gave Americans a windfall in an otherwise tepid economic recovery. For a while, the left touted the importance of “green jobs.”  But it’s black gold that has spurred much of the very little real growth that has occurred in the Obama era. Thankfully President Obama and the Democrats didn’t see it coming, so they were not able to stop it, tax it or regulate it.

Anyway, what is the industry or private sector the Democrats support most? Oil and gas? Banking? Manufacturing? Entrepreneurs starting small businesses?  From proposing environmental policies that drive up energy costs for everyone to accommodating trial lawyers and government unions whenever possible, the Democrats are making a statement about the economy they wish we had.

The Democrats allow their ideological bias to drive their economic policies, and Republicans do, too. But while Democrats say they are for jobs and for growing the economy, nothing they have done in the past six-plus years reflects that they want that growth to come independent of government participation. Democrats want people to aspire to government support rather than success in the private sector.  The American Dream, for them, springs from government largesse, not from a government-free career.

After six years of weak growth and an anti-business climate under President Obama, you can’t blame millenials and others if they have given up on or are unexposed to the possibility of a true private-sector career.  So Republicans need to show why good, well-paying jobs are not only preferable but are also possible to attain in the economy they envision. If Republicans let the election become about Obamacare, same-sex marriage and climate change, Republicans probably lose.  But if the election is about who can deliver jobs and prosperity, Republicans can win.