Everybody on the Democratic side, including me, has been down on Kerry for missing opportunities to clobber Bush. I’m not sure we’re right about that.
Kerry isn’t trying to win debates; he’s trying to win the Presidency. To do so, he needs, most of all to look Presidential. Insofar as clobbering Bush gets in the way of that, clobbering Bush ought to take a back seat. The best of all possible worlds is the one in which Kerry looks like a smart, solid, nice guy while scoring some points and getting under GWB’s skin. So far, I’d give him about a 9.
That said, what points should he be trying to score? He’s made his case on dishonest/detached from reality. He’ll want to repeat that as occasion arises — and it certainly will arise — but he needs some new material.
Here’s my nominee: George B. Bush sets low standards and makes excuses for failure. It’s true, of course, and especially applicable to the economy. Instead of thinking about how to get back to four percent unemployment, Bush has been explaining that five and a half really isn’t so bad.
He’s also bragging about having created 1.9 million jobs in the last thirteen months. That’s an average of 150,000 per month, which as it happens is just about the number needed to accomodate job market entrants and prevent unemployment from rising unless people are getting so discouraged that they’re leaving the workforce.
So the idea that creating jobs at that rate is something to be proud of, and that the current unemployment rate is nothing to be ashamed of, fit together: and they add up to a goal of leaving the labor market just about as soft as it currently is, rather than returning to the lower rate that seemed natural before 1973 and again in the late 1990s.
Mr. Bush may be satisfied, Kerry should say, but I’m not. Didn’t someone say something once about the soft bigotry of low expectations? We need a President who expects more of himself, and of the country.
Friday night, Bush added something to his familiar alibis for job loss and the deficit by saying that the stock market had started to fall six months before he took office.
(He mentioned the stock market peak twice; once early on and a second time, quoted above, about halfway through.)
But if a recession had been “foretold” “six months prior to my arrival” — that is, by August of 2000 — then what was Mr. Bush doing in October of that year making budget promises based on an endless boom?
We need a President, Mr. Kerry should say, committed to results, not excuses; actions, not alibis.