Sometime during the past month or so, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign lost its laserlike focus on the bleak, job-starved Obama economy.
It allowed President Obama's campaign to define him with a blitz of television ads in the summer, as Mr. Romney husbanded his resources and declined to aggressively punch back in the battleground states that will decide the outcome of this election.
That allowed Mr. Obama's shell game campaign of deception and distraction to move into the lead on some of Mr. Romney's bread-and-butter issues, including a slight edge on handling the economy, according to one poll.
Even more incredibly, all of this occurred while the weak Obama economy grew weaker by the month. Job creation is at a standstill and the economy is in the 43rd month of 8 percent-plus unemployment, with no relief in sight.
Economists are scaling back their growth forecasts to between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, the medical equivalent of being on the critical list.
The message these forecasts send: The economy isn't getting better this year or even much better next year. "For overall [gross domestic product] in the third quarter, we now see some downside risk to our current call for a 1.5 percent growth rate," JPMorgan Chase & Co. economist Michael Feroli says.
Even Mr. Obama admitted in his promise-them-anything convention speech that the road ahead could get worse : "I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy," he said. Four years into Mr. Obama's trouble-plagued presidency, the bed-ridden economy still hasn't recovered from the recession. If anything, it has taken a turn for the worse.
Twenty-three million Americans are either unemployed, working part-time or working fewer hours when they need a full-time job, or have stopped looking for work and thus are not counted among the unemployed. The last category is responsible for most of the decline in the nation's unemployment rate.
After four years of failed stimulus policies, Americans are struggling more than ever to keep their heads above water.
Start with $4-a-gallon gas prices because of a spike in oil prices from Mr. Obama's restrictions on increased drilling. This shoved consumer prices up last month to the fastest pace in more than three years "and squeezed spending on other items, threatening to slow the already sluggish" economy, Reuters news agency reported.
Mr. Obama is campaigning in the Midwest touting the auto industry's comeback, hinting that manufacturing is on the mend. The truth is that factory, mine and utility production fell 1.2 percent, according to Commerce Department data released last week. That's the biggest decline since 2009.
The most withering political indictment of Mr. Obama's failing economy came last week from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. No, the national news media didn't portray it that way, but for all intents and purposes, that's what it was.
Indeed, the thrust of Mr. Bernanke's remarks sounded like fatherly advice to voters to beware of Mr. Obama's flimflam campaign spiel that the job market is "moving in the right direction." "The weak job market should concern every American," Mr. Bernanke said. "High unemployment imposes hardship on millions of people and it entails a tremendous waste of human skills and talents.
"Five million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months, and millions more have left the labor force, many of them doubtless because they've given up on finding suitable work."
For the third time in the past three years, the Fed has decided to buy $40 billion in mortgage bonds and $45 billion in Treasury bonds each month in an attempt to boost economic growth. Their first two stimulus efforts had little if any impact on the economy, and economists do not expect that the Fed's latest move will be any different.
"Unfortunately, the Fed has already pulled all the levers that might make a difference," University of Maryland economist Peter Morici says.
Meantime, consumer and business spending have slowed, a sign that both remain troubled and pessimistic about the economy's declining growth. The Fed's decision to keep its interest rates at near 0 for the next couple of years suggests it does not expect the Obama economy to improve until fiscal policies change.
Those policies are not going to dramatically change if Mr. Obama wins a second term. He has said as much in his campaign speeches in which he has called for raising taxes on investors and small businesses despite the economy's weakness. So much for his promise to protect the middle class. Take, for example, the punitive taxes that some middle-class Americans will pay under Obamacare -- the mandate tax for those who do not want or cannot afford to buy insurance.
America runs on capital investment, the life blood of our economy. But Mr. Obama says he will raise the capital gains tax rate to 23.8 percent and the dividend top tax rate to a high of 43.4 percent (when the millionaire surcharge is factored in). "Without offsetting changes elsewhere in the tax code, such tax increases would raise the cost of capital for business," according to an analysis in Investor's Business Daily.
You won't hear any of this on the nightly news programs because the networks are in the bag for Mr. Obama. In the past year alone, it was a rarity to see any story on either of the three major networks about the unemployment crisis, falling incomes and the rising poverty rate.
Yet all is not lost. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows a "slim majority of likely voters still disapprove of how Mr. Obama has handled the economy and 7 in 10 rank the economy as fairly bad or very bad."
But this story isn't going to be told unless Mr. Romney tells it in hard-hitting campaign ads that slam Mr. Obama where he is the most vulnerable. There's still time for him to turn this election around, as he did for many troubled businesses over his successful, job-creating career.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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