- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

Until Election Day, President Bush’s political foes condemned what they called a jobless, slow-growing economy that John Kerry kept comparing to the Great Depression.

Despite Mr. Kerry’s hyperbole, the U.S. economy was in a full recovery. The month before voters went to the polls, businesses reported they added 303,000 new jobs to their payrolls, though the government’s October jobs report came a few days after the election.

Since then, just about all the salient economic numbers have been up, and the Massachusetts liberal has all but disappeared from the major political arena, his dismal economic rhetoric, in retrospect, looking pretty foolish. Unemployment continues falling, economic growth is up, the Dow has staged an overall comeback (despite the usual week-to-week fluctuations), consumer confidence has risen and Mr. Bush’s job approval score is up at 53 percent, according to the Gallup Poll.

It turns out Mr. Bush’s tax cuts, roundly condemned by the Democrats, were just the right medicine after all.

Unfortunately, while the war against Mr. Bush’s economic policies ended on the campaign front, at least temporarily, national news media bashing of the economy continues. It can be seen in the news pages and much of the daily reporting from Wall Street, despite the postelection rally in the financial markets and economic growth numbers any of our trading partners would be proud to have.

Adjectives like “mediocre,” “lackluster,” “weak” or “sluggish” are still used in business reporting to describe an economy growing at about 4 percent, according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s third-quarter gross domestic product revision.

Since when is 4 percent GDP growth mediocre? The European Union barely achieves 1 to 2 percent. The Japanese would be dancing in the streets if their economy performed at our level.

Here at home, retail sales have been rising, the technology sector is in a comeback, with Intel forecasting higher revenues, industrial activity is up, oil prices (as I write have fallen precipitously since the Energy Department reported inventories much higher than expected, and government officials tell me higher tax revenues are reducing the federal budget deficit.

True, earlier this month the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the economy created 112,000 new payroll jobs in November — a number that disappointed Wall Street, which expected 200,000.

The major newspapers and nightly media shows, of course, turned this one-month number into bad news, worrying it could mean a downturn in the economy. The usual suspects were brought before the cameras to say the jobs number had to reach at least 150,000 jobs a month to keep up with growth of the labor force.

Not reported, though, was the 303,000 payroll jobs created in October, following 119,000 jobs in September. Simple math shows the economy has created 534,000 jobs in just the past three months, thus yielding a monthly average of well more than 150,000 jobs.

Add to this the BLS’ benchmark revision of the payroll survey released in October — showing many more jobs created over the previous year than the initial monthly surveys suggested — and a stronger payroll employment picture emerges: 2.4 million new jobs have been created since August 2003.

In just the past year alone, more than 2 million new payroll jobs have been added to the labor force. That’s hardly a number that should produce the postelection hand-wringing we still see.

But you don’t get this perspective on the nightly network news shows, which is a pretty good reason not to watch them or, if you must, not to believe them. All too often the economic news is cooked with selective facts reported out of context.

The bottom line is we have had 15 straight months of payroll job growth and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.4 percent. Compare that to Europe’s nearly 10 percent rate.

Meanwhile, the president is slowly putting his economic team together, choosing to keep Treasury Secretary John Snow, for the time being at least, after the White House sent signals the former railroad executive would be leaving.

Mr. Snow has been a loyal soldier who was on the road virtually nonstop during the campaign selling the president’s economic policies, but White House strategists wanted a stronger pitchman to make the administration’s case on Social Security reform and overhauling the tax code.

In the end, the president’s men decided both initiatives would rise or fall on Mr. Bush’s personal salesmanship, and how much political capital he is willing to spend to get them enacted.

But a strong, growing economy is always the best political capital any president can have when making a case for fundamental fiscal reform, and that’s what Mr. Bush has going for him as he heads into his second term.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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