- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2012



Conservatives are fractured, split and mad at each other, brawling like Democrats. There’s only one man who can unify the movement. Fortunately for the Grumpy Old Party, Barack Obama is available, ready and eager.

By mid-March, we’ll have muddled through most of the primaries and caucuses (cauci?), and by then the Republicans will know who their nominee will be, even if he won’t be crowned until the party meets in convention assembled in Tampa, Fla., in late August.

Soon the cannibalism will abate, and the fun will begin. The venom will be aimed at the president, who will fire back with toxins of his own. The camps of the candidates, each heavily armed, will be evenly matched.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” but even Stupid can see the economy against a backdrop of presidential incompetence at home and timidity abroad.

Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich continued to pound Mitt Romney, to “slow him down” so he could “expose” him (though not necessarily by stealing his pants). Ken Starr, the Whitewaterprosecutor, scolded anyone who won’t vote for a Mormon just because he’s a Mormon, and pointedly said he wasn’t endorsing Mr. Romney. He must have been talking about Jon Huntsman Jr., who scolded his fellow Mormon for injecting “partisanship” into the campaign. Horrors! Partisanship in an election campaign? Who would have thought it? Ron Paul was chased out of Moe Joe’s Diner in New Hampshire by scrambling reporters intent on doing harm.

Dan Rather (remember him?) says Barack Obama would lose the election if it were held today. The silly season is hard upon us, and it’s only January.

But soon we’ll have to take ourselves seriously, and the economy will still be job one. The government’s numbers continue the dreary downward trend Mr. Obama introduced soon after his inauguration three years ago, and the weight of his fantasies keeps the economy mired in a mud of low expectations.

The latest numbers revealed 200,000 new jobs for Americans last month, and the jobless rate, which was bumping 10 percent only a few months ago, dropped for the second month in a row. Any good news is better than bad news, but the news hidden in the government’s numbers for December was bad indeed. The unemployment number is the least reliable indicator of the health of the economy.

Over the past 30 months, the number of available workers has declined by more than 840,000 - dropping by 170,000 in just the past two months. The number of Americans employed or looking for work - what the economists call “the labor force participation rate” - has fallen to 64 percent of the population. Adjusted for this unusually unhappy rate, the unemployment figure is more than 11 percent. No good news here.

There’s even worse news in the small print, which is why the remorseless stock-market indicators declined when the numbers came out Friday. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates a “real unemployment rate,” which includes workers with part-time often ragtag jobs, and the workers who have simply given up the job search, at 15.2 percent. This is not bad news, but catastrophic news, not just for the discouraged and underemployed but lethal for an incumbent president organizing his re-election campaign.

The skeptical Wall Street reaction to the news recalls Ronald Reagan’s famous definition of a struggling economy: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. A recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” Update that and you can see the rock and the hard place squeezing Barack Obama.

This is the killer issue the Republicans must exploit to win when they finally find their man. There’s no sign of a happy warrior in sight, among either the Republicans or the Democrats, but soon, when primaries and caucuses have produced a nominee by relentlessly eliminating the chaff from the wheat, it will be game on, and a very different game than the one we’ve seen.

Alan Krueger, the president’s top economic adviser, spins the new government figures as providing “further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal,” that only the failed Obama economic policies can help the country “dig our way out of the deep hole.” Alas, the only thing anyone can accomplish by digging to get out of a hole is a deeper hole.

In fact, the only way Mr. Obama can make mediocre economic news look good, observes Investor’s Business Daily, is to set expectations “so low that even a tiny step forward seems like a giant leap.” That’s not much of a strategy.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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