If there's a better day for the op-ed page than Tuesday, I'll be damned if I know it. Tuesday is the day we get Paul Krugman, E. J. Dionne, and when he's making sense, Richard Cohen.
First, Krugman--have I mentioned how much I love this guy? He breaks down the employment news into wonderfully simple terms.
The only seemingly favorable statistic is the unemployment rate, which has recently fallen to 5.6 percent, the same as in November 2001. But how is that possible, when employment has grown more slowly than the population, or even declined? The answer is that people aren't counted as unemployed unless they're looking for work, and a growing fraction of the population isn't even looking. It's hard to see how this is good news.The last bolded part reminds me of something I heard Jim Hightower say during the Clinton administration. When Clinton noted in the State of the Union address that his administration had created 23 million jobs, a waitress said "Yep, I've got three of them." But under the Bush administration, you can't even find those three jobs to make ends meet.
Other indicators continue to suggest a grim job picture. In the last three months, more than 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of work more than 15 weeks. That's the worst number since 1983, and a sign that jobs remain very hard to find — which is what anyone who has lost a job will tell you.
One last statistic — not about jobs, but about wages. Since the last quarter of 2001, real G.D.P. has risen 7.2 percent. But wage and salary income, after adjusting for inflation, is up only 0.6 percent. This matches what the employer survey is telling us: America's workers have seen very little benefit from this recovery.
Richard Cohen puts the lie to Bush's Meet the Press claim that he obviously completed his service in the TANG (Texas Air National Guard) because he was given an honorable discharge. He does this by comparing Bush's service to his own, which was also questionable, by his own admission.
But Cohen's not the president and not running for re-election, which he says makes a difference.
Now George Bush, who faced this question the last time out, has to face it again. The reason is that this time he is likely to compete against a genuine war hero. John Kerry did not duck the war.And that's my major beef with Bush as far as military service is concerned. I don't care if you used your daddy's influence to get out of the draft and get into a cheesy unit learning to fly outdated planes. I don't care if you got a medical deferment or found another way to avoid serving--I'd have done the same in their shoes. But first of all do your duty and then don't act like a goddamn war hero strutting onto aircraft carriers like you did something special.
But George Bush did. He did so by joining the National Guard. Bush now wants to drape the Vietnam-era Guard with the bloodied flag of today's Iraq-serving Guard -- "I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard," Bush warned during his interview with Russert -- but the fact remained that back then the Guard was where you went if you did not want to fight. That was the case with me. I opposed the war in Vietnam and had no desire to fight it. Bush, on the other hand, says he supported the war -- as long, it seems, as someone else fought it.
E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes that while Bush/Rove have been credited with attempting to avoid the pitfalls that Bush 41 suffered during his re-election campaign, they may have done themselves in by failing to realize why Bush 41 lost in the first place.
The president and Karl Rove, his top political adviser, see Bush 41's problem as his estrangement from the Republicans' conservative political base. The first Bush raised taxes, so this Bush will cut them once, twice, many times. The social conservatives didn't trust the elder Bush. So this Bush will make sure that they keep faith with him as a man who keeps the faith.Now lest you think Dionne has forgotten about the 9-11 attacks or the propensity for the Bush administration to go onto orange alert whenever the job numbers are down or there's a scandal brewing, he follows up with this:
Here's what's missing from this analysis: The first Bush didn't lose because of defections from the right. He lost because mainstream, middle-class Americans decided, fairly or not, that their president just didn't understand much of anything about their lives. They were worried about their jobs, their health care, their pensions, their housing and sending their kids to college. Voters freely conceded that the first President Bush was first-rate when it came to foreign policy. That just didn't happen to be what they voted on in November 1992.
The current President Bush is putting himself in exactly the same place. If Americans want a war president, he's their man. But in light of the failure to find those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, many voters now wonder whether that was a war that needed to be fought.
Do not for an instant underestimate the capacity of Bush and Rove to find ingenious ways of focusing our minds on terrorism by the last three weeks of the campaign. They played Democrats for chumps on security issues in 2002. They're certain they can do it again.I think the difference this time is that Bush is becoming the boy who cried "wolf" and this time, the people who would normally come running to save him are too busy looking for a job.