The One Man Time Bomb

There’s a ticking time bomb out there and it’s not Joe Biden. No, the secret explosive surely set to blow isn’t a danger to the president, but his challenger. It’s the economy, stupid.

Earlier in the cycle, the Republican candidate’s primary strategy was to “run out the clock” until Election Day. Don’t make any mistakes (that turned out well), and continue to hammer the president on the economy. Eventually, voters would decide a weak economy is enough of a reason to vote against the president. The strategy led to a campaign short on big ideas, and eventually ineffective in its own focus, but its philosophy was not inherently problematic.

Until now. “Running out the clock” is no longer an apt way to describe the governor’s campaign. He’s running against it.

On Friday, as the media still whirled about the President’s catastrophic debate performance, some jobs numbers came out. The report was important for one day, but in the end Romney’s “revival” overshadowed the data. So here’s what you need to know if you missed the coverage. Unemployment fell to its lowest point in four years, since before Barack Obama took office. 8.1 to 7.8 percent. That means, for the first time in his presidency, Obama can proudly state that the unemployment rate is lower now than when he was sworn in. Groovy, huh?

More people entered the jobs market. Whereas last month unemployment ticked down because people stopped looking for work (the percentage only takes into account people looking for work who can’t find any), more people were looking for work this month, and more people found it. That means healthy growth. Even better, more people became self-employed (working from home, farming, etc.) than in three decades.

Oh, and you may remember those weak jobs reports that came out over the summer. You may have heard Romney’s quips and the president’s meager defense that “things are getting better”. It turns out those numbers were wrong. The Labor Department revised their numbers. Forty thousand more jobs were created in both July and August than originally thought. That’s eighty thousand more jobs total (in case you’re slow with math). Or an almost 33 percent increase from the original number in July, and an almost 50 percent increase from the original August report. Suddenly, the “weak” summer doesn’t look so bad at all. In fact, the average amount of jobs added per month in 2012 is now roughly one hundred and fifty thousand, a relatively healthy number.

In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics edited another finding. It found the economy added an additional 400,000 thousand jobs between April 2011 to March 2012 than reported. That means, that in addition to unemployment being at its lowest rate in four years, the U.S. economy has more jobs today than it did before Barack Obama took the oval office. Lower unemployment. More jobs. Simple stuff. Big news.

So that’s the technical stuff. But what does it mean? Now, for the first time, you can say, with definitive, statistical proof, that the country is not only better off than it was four years ago, but that it’s on the upswing.

A Gallup poll last month revealed that consumer confidence was up. The housing market has stabilized. And now the jobs numbers are firmly improving. And four years ago we were all stuffing cash in our mattresses.

Romney’s central assertion, his primary reason for replacing President Obama, is the weak economy. The 8 percent unemployment figure was one of his best talking points. But the problem is the economy is very clearly improving. While these numbers are for the most part, abstract, and arbitrary to the average American, optimism is not. As economists say, the key to recessions is fear. Fear that things are not getting better, that it’s better to save than spend, that there is no stability.

But as the jobs report tells us, there’s no reason to be afraid. There’s reason to be excited.

I am confident that this was the turning point. I am confident that at 7.8 percent of consumers will really start to feel better and kick this economy back into high gear. But it will take a little while. It will take October and November and December. And last time I checked, the election is in less than a month.

We now have a Greek tragedy on our hands. Because a mere two days before the best jobs report of his presidency, Barack Obama bombed the most important event in the campaign thus far. A slight loss, or even a real, but not decidedly terrible loss, wouldn’t have been enough to detract from this news. But that’s not what happened. The debate was unqualifiedly terrible. And so the jobs numbers that could have truly been the nail in the coffin, the proof that President Obama deserves four more years, fly largely unnoticed in the campaigns’ narratives.

If the election were in December, Mitt Romney wouldn’t have an argument left. The way things are, however, Mitt has about 4 weeks to convince people that things are bad before they realize they’re actually not. It’s a time bomb that is set to blow, the question is can Mitt get out of the building before it does (raining down a terrible fire of growth and prosperity)?