- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

Ahhhhhh, there’s baaaaad news tonight, as a famous radio commentator of yesteryear used to introduce unpleasant developments. But this morning the news is bad only if you’re one of the Democratic presidential wannabes.

If you’re an old-timer, you can remember Gabriel Heater’s other introduction: “Ahhhhhh, there’s gooooood news tonight.”

The news, in fact, is good enough to stun Independents, Greens, Prohibitionists, Progressives, Social Workers and even States Rights Democrats, and particularly Greenbacks: The economy, in the tank for months, grew at what the staid Associated Press calls “a blistering 7.2 percent annual rate in the strongest pace in nearly two decades.”

Analysts and experts reached for metaphors, similes, allusions, litotes and anything else lying about to express their wonderment. “This is a gangbuster number,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at economy.com. “The key challenge now is jobs.”

Democratic partisans, who understand that “it’s the economy, stupid,” were thrown into unexpected dismay. When one administration spokesman passed out the good news, one reporter demanded to know how the president could call it good news when the economy still hadn’t created jobs. “This has been a largely jobless recovery,” sighed Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, a disappointed Democrat.

And so far it has been, though the nation’s payrolls grew by 57,000 new jobs in September, the first increase in eight months. But the economy must generate a lot more jobs than that to dent the unemployment rate, which steadied at 6.1 percent in September. New unemployment claims dropped by 5,000 last week, an indication that layoffs are slowing as wages and benefits climb.

Consumer spending rocketed up by nearly 30 percent in the third quarter, propelled by sales of new cars and clothes, and the housing market continued to be hot, hot, hot, powered by low mortgage rates. An observant fellow could detect that something was at work by the signs on luxury apartment blocks, begging for tenants. Nobody wants to rent when low mortgage rates encourage young families to buy a house in the ‘burbs.

The good economic news — if it continues — will inevitably crimp the Democratic strategy of gassing and grumbling about the war in Iraq. Then the crocodile tears for the GIs in Baghdad and Tikrit won’t impress anyone. And what if the news from Iraq turns good, too? That’s a possibility too grim to think about.

The bad news for the dwarfs could be good news for Hillary Clinton, whose presidential strategy for ‘04 is predicated on late Democratic desperation for a savior, any savior. By now Wesley Clark, the Eisenhower the Clintons found under the bridge to the new century, was supposed to be awash in ticker-tape, having lapped the field twice.

A new poll by Quinnipiac University, utterly reputable as these polls go, demonstrates what had become clear to anyone who watched Monday night’s Democratic debate. The general not only has not caught fire, but looks too wet to be a running mate.

Tested against the field, Hillary scores 43 percent of the Democratic vote, with the general trailing at 10 percent, only slightly ahead of Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt with 8 percent. John Kerry and Howard Dean follow with 7 percent. John Edwards manages 5 percent and three forlorn figures who look a lot like Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and Dennis Kucinich are straggling in from the far horizon.

Bill Clinton, who can’t get a grasp on the fact that he’s yesterday’s bad news, showed up in Manhattan yesterday to undercut George W. with praise for Kofi Annan’s scheme to get control of U.S. troops to use as an army under the U.N.’s heroic pastels. Spoiling and meddling is the only role left for him.

The economic figures are tedious only if you don’t have to worry about finding a job, or, in the case of an incumbent president, you don’t have to worry about losing the job you have. They’re convincing evidence that the tax cuts pumped new life into an economy that stalled just as Bill Clinton turned everything over to George W. Bush.

And that’s the gooood news for the rest of us.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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