Last month, I concluded from the weak jobs report that the economy still didn’t appear weak enough to make Mitt Romney the favorite. But times are changing fast. Today's weak jobs report suggests, at best, that the accelerating growth of winter was yet another false start and, at worst, that the recovery threatens to stall out completely. Even if the economy does pull out of its spring swoon, it could be sucked right back down by a terrifying implosion in Europe. Disaster is in the air, and some Americans are already skipping to the part where they feast upon human flesh.
Is there anything President Obama can do about it? Substantively, no. He has an economic plan — the American Jobs Act — but Republicans in Congress appear persistently uninterested in passing something that could allow the economy to grow fast enough to make Obama the favorite for reelection. Imagine that!
Obama’s fallback is to go back to emphasizing the fact that he has a plan that Republicans refuse to enact. In his speech today, Obama is reemphasizing the proposals that he introduced last fall.
This opens Obama up to the charge by Mitt Romney that he simply hasn’t gotten his plan passed, so it’s time to vote in somebody else. This counterattack will probably work well: Voters, and especially swing voters, have very little understanding of how divided power works, and they tend to simply attribute all results to the president.
It’s worth keeping in mind, whether or not it has any political force, that Romney is not offering a plausible solution to the crisis. If you define an economic plan as a proposal to do things that are a specific response to the crisis and not just long-term changes that he would favor under any economic circumstances, then Romney has no economic plan. His plan is to benefit from the short-term business cycle in order to implement long-term policy changes that Republicans would favor even if the economy was humming along.
Indeed, if you think about it, having a real proposal to boost the short-term economy would be counterproductive to Romney’s chances of winning. Romney’s advisers — and, when speaking off the cuff, Romney himself — all believe in a basic Keynesian view of the world. They advocate that short-term increases in the deficit will boost demand and increase growth. If Romney came out with a plan like that, Obama could just grab hold of it and demand that Congress pass it (and Republicans would be hard-pressed to explain why they were voting down their own nominee’s plan.) Romney could try to pair it with long-term changes Democrats would hate, but Obama could just pick out the short-term stuff and punt on the long-term parts. And if a plan like that passed, it would boost the economy and harm Romney. So he won’t do it.