The weakening, job-starved Obama economy looms over the Democratic National Convention this week, casting a pall of gloom over a party paralyzed by its far-left ideology.
With polls showing that 72 percent of voters say President Obama's handling of the economy will be a "major factor" in their vote this November, Democrats are trying every trick they can think of to persuade voters that things really are better than they were under the George W. Bush administration.
They chose to sell this flim-flam argument in Charlotte, N.C., a state where the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, the fifth-highest in the nation. North Carolinians have been as patient as Job, but now they know they've been had. Recent polls show Republican Mitt Romney has the edge there.
Republican leaders, including Mr. Romney's running-mate, Paul Ryan, have stormed into the state, armed with one simple question for the voters and for the country: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
Mr. Obama is going to spin a lot of dubious reasoning in the next two months, but Mr. Ryan said Monday that the president can't tell us with a straight face that we're better off now.
At least one Democrat seems to agree.
Asked that question on "CBS Sunday," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley replied, "No, but that's not the question of this election."
Tell that to the voters who say things are much worse, especially for 23 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or so discouraged they have stopped looking for work and are no longer counted as jobless.
In November 2008, the national unemployment rate was 6.8 percent. Now it's at 8.3 percent. It has been more than 8 percent for 43 months and is expected to remain there for the rest of Mr. Obama's term, and well into 2013 and beyond if he is re-elected.
There are many other ways to measure whether we're better off now than we were four years ago. Here are a few comparisons between November 2008 and now:
Annual budget deficit: Then: $459 billion. Now: $1.2 trillion.
Federal debt: Then: $10 trillion. Now: $16 trillion.
Federal debt as a percentage of our total economic output: Then: 69.7 percent. Now: 104.8 percent.
Poverty rate: Then: 13 percent. Now: 15 percent.
Food-stamp recipients: Then: 30.9 million. Now: 44.7 million.
Average price for a gallon of regular gas: Then: $2.40. Now: $3.80.
It's hard to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as they say in Iowa and elsewhere. So Mr. Obama has brought in the one Democrat he thinks will best make the case for his re-election: Bill Clinton, who will nominate him.
No one can rouse Democrats better than Mr. Clinton, but even he will have a very hard time making the case for the president in this ever-weakening and now fast-shrinking economy. This is especially the case because the former president has been, from time to time over the past four years, one of Mr. Obama's critics.
When Mr. Obama and his hired guns were doing everything they could to demonize Mr. Romney's successful career as a venture capital investor in job-creating businesses, Mr. Clinton spoke up for Mr. Romney's record at Bain Capital and called him "a sterling" example of a good businessman.
"I don't think we ought to get into the position where we say 'this is bad work.' This is good work," he said in May, adding that Mr. Romney's record as a governor and businessman "crosses the qualification threshold."
Mr. Clinton is also going to have to go before Democrats and defend Mr. Obama's specious argument that the Bush tax policies got us "into the mess we're in," and that's why we should not go back to those tax-cutting policies now.
That's going to require a little dishonesty. While Mr. Clinton raised the top income tax rate to more than 40 percent, he also cut taxes on upper-income Americans in his second term, signing a Republican bill that reduced the capital gains tax for investors.
The Clinton economy was doing just sort of OK in his first term, but it went into overdrive after the capital gains tax cut, triggering a wave of new investment in the high-tech sector that created millions of jobs and (contrary to what Obama Democrats believe) boosted tax revenues that led to a budget surplus.
Mr. Clinton, of course, won't remind convention Democrats of any of this in his speech, and the network news people won't mention it, either. But keep in mind what Mr. Clinton said in June in a CNBC interview as you listen to his political spin from the podium. That's when he was asked about raising the two top income tax rates as Mr. Obama proposes at a time when the economy was weakening further.
"What I think we need is to find some way to avoid the fiscal cliff, to avoid doing anything that would contract the economy now," Mr. Clinton said. Asked if that meant extending all of the Bush tax cuts at the end of the year, even for those in the top income brackets, he replied, "They will have to put off everything until early next year."
If timing is everything in politics, this may be the worst week Democrats could have chosen to officially kick off their general election campaign. A string of bad economic reports are coming out that will only remind the voters of Mr. Obama's failed economic stewardship.
Last week, there was Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's blistering appraisal of the damage the high unemployment rate has inflicted "on our economy that could last for many years."
Then, on Monday, after Mr. Obama told a Labor Day crowd that the auto industry "has come roaring back," new data showed Tuesday that manufacturing continued its decline for the third straight month, as new orders, production and employment fell in August. Construction fell 0.9 percent in July, too. Then, as convention-going Democrats return home at week's end, the jobless numbers will come out Friday and are expected to be weak.
Mr. Obama's long-awaited report cards are coming out, too. The Washington Post's respected economics writer Robert J. Samuelson writes: "Obama's economic report card is at best mediocre." Indeed, after allowing him a pass on the first six months of his presidency, he gives Mr. Obama a grade of C- or D for his overall performance.
He's being too generous. This is the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, and it's getting weaker. I give him an F.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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