Mitt Romney will come out with both guns blazing in Wednesday night's debate with President Obama. His target will be the president's four-year failure to lead the U.S. economy back to robust health.
Mr. Romney is ready with a wealth of bleak statistics to prove his case that the economy is falling backward, not moving forward, as Mr. Obama consistently claims, and to prove that the president's failed policies have hurt the most vulnerable Americans, especially the middle class.
As for Mr. Obama, who has presided over an economy that a majority of Americans still say is either doing poorly or in a recession, he's got a lot of explaining to do.
If you still believe the pro-Obama puffery on the nightly news that the economy is improving, consider these developments from just the past few weeks.
The economy is not only weakening much faster than the White House or its allies in the national news media want you to know; it's teetering on the edge of recession.
In a stunning report Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department said the slowing economy barely grew at a snail's pace -- 1.3 percent in the second quarter. That's the economic equivalent of surviving on life support. In another time, this news might have been enough to sink Mr. Obama's re-election hopes and give Mr. Romney's candidacy a major boost.
The story, with few exceptions, was all but buried or played down by the network news shows and the national political news media. The chattering class was still talking about and searching for silver linings in the economy to make the case that it is improving under Mr. Obama's policies.
However, the revised 1.3 percent growth rate was down from a dismal 1.7 percent rate the government had reported in August. That was below an anemic 2 percent pace in the first three months of the year, which has plummeted sharply from 3 percent at the end of 2011. The White House blamed the revision on the droughts across the Midwest, but the growth rate has been falling since last winter. Moreover, the 1.3 percent rate followed other signs that the economy had all but stopped growing.
Nationally, unemployment stayed between 8.1 percent and 8.3 percent for the year, though more than half of the states saw jobless rates rise in September (another story buried by the news media).
The government also announced last week that durable goods orders plunged 13.2 percent in August. It was the steepest decline since 2009. While manufacturing rose just slightly in September, it followed three months of severe contraction, falling by a 1.4 percent annual rate -- hardly a sign of a turnaround.
Mr. Obama has been declaring that manufacturing jobs are coming out of the woodwork, but nothing could be further from the truth, something he knows little about. "The U.S. manufacturing sector isn't collapsing, but it is definitely flat-lining," Washington Post economic writer Neil Irwin reported Tuesday. Contrary to Mr. Obama's exaggerated claims, the numbers "reflect weak growth," Mr. Irwin said.
The manufacturing sector added an average of 5,000 jobs nationally each month this summer, he noted, but that was down from an average of 19,000 a month last year.
"Manufacturing recovery? What manufacturing recovery?" Mr. Irwin asked. His story was buried on Page 13.
If there's one word that describes the economy under Mr. Obama's inept presidency, it is "uncertainty." That has slammed the brakes on business expansion, job creation, economic growth and consumer spending.
Businesses aren't hiring because they're afraid of the massive benefit costs and taxes from Mr. Obama's new health care mandates on employers. Mr. Obama's insistence that income taxes must be raised on small businesses and all Americans in the top two income brackets further adds to their uncertainty.
The "fiscal cliff" that awaits the economy at year's end, largely because of Mr. Obama's opposition to making the 2001 tax cuts permanent, only adds to this economic paralysis. If we go over that cliff and 90 percent of Americans are hit by severely higher taxes, that could plunge the country into another recession. As a result, individual Americans, businesses and investors are socking their money away in Treasury bills and other forms of savings, which has kept trillions of dollars out of risk-taking investments needed to create jobs and boost economic growth.
At the same time, "other data show that Americans are fleeing the stock market and avoiding the purchase of new homes," the Post reported Tuesday. "They've been burned by the stock market. They've suffered through capital losses on their homes. And so they're hunkering down in what they view as the safest place to store money," said Karen Dynan, co-director of economic studies at the liberal Brookings Institution.
Americans have good reason to be fearful. Jobs are in short supply, median family household income is declining, and the poverty rate has risen to a record 15 percent, with 46.2 million people in poverty. On any given night, at least 700,000 Americans are homeless.
If you think the economy is going to get better anytime soon under Mr. Obama's anti-growth policies, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke sent a grim signal Monday that the Fed would keep its near-zero interest rates in place at least through mid-2015.
Mr. Romney's debate strategy will be to attack based on all of the economy's weaknesses without letting up. He cannot allow the president to tie him down with distractions that have nothing to do with the difficult times Americans are facing under his policies.
Mr. Obama has had four long, insufferable years to fix the economy, and he has failed to do it. Unemployment is still above 8 percent, and the only reason the rate fell from 10 percent was because millions of discouraged Americans stopped looking for work and were no longer counted among the unemployed.
Mr. Romney spent his entire business investment career creating jobs here in America, so he knows how to do it. By now, it should be manifestly clear that Mr. Obama doesn't.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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