Last November saw a Republican tidal wave sweep 63 new members of the GOP into the House of Representatives and make John Boehner the Speaker of the House. That election last fall was ultimately the result of many complex factors: disappointment with the president, distress over various economic upheavals and a conservative backlash against several societal changes.
Yet the dominant explanation of the election became that the Democrats lost the House because they didn’t focus on the issue the vast majority of Americans cared most about: jobs. Yet now that Republicans are in power, they have been focusing on everything but.
The first order of business for the do-nothing 112th Congress was not to address unemployment, but rather to try to repeal the president’s healthcare bill. Even though the president’s veto pen and a Democratic majority in the Senate would make such an effort impossible, that didn’t stop the Republicans from catering first and foremost to their base.
Subsequently, the GOP took up efforts to attack abortion rights and passed bills to de-fund Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio. These initiatives weren’t just symbolic measures, as one of the major obstacles to a budget deal has been the refusal of House Republicans to abandon ridiculous initiatives like these.
Altogether, though, this shouldn’t be at all surprising. The Republican message in the 2010 midterms didn’t have anything to do with jobs or economic issues. The drive behind the Tea Party was “to take our country back” from the “socialist, Muslim, Kenyan, etc.” Barack Obama.
The American public, however, seems to be catching on. Congress’ approval rating has remained historically low and CNN puts the disapproval rating for Republicans in Congress at 64 percent. Meanwhile, amid all the chaos of the last few weeks, the AP has the president’s approval rating at a healthy 53 percent.
And yet while we’ve been having these debates on abortion and NPR, the nation’s unemployment rate has been steadily declining. After reaching a high of 10.1 percent in October 2009, March’s rate is down to 8.8 percent, representing a full point drop since just November.
In fact, March marks the 13th straight month of job creation under the Obama Administration, and at no time during Obama’s presidency did the country lose more jobs in a month than in Bush’s last month in office: 598,000 in January 2009. The uptick in Obama’s re-election chances is likely the direct result of the improving job market.
It is likely in the coming months, and is starting even now, that the Republicans will try to take credit for this drop in the unemployment rate. Remember, though, that the Republicans have only been in control of the House for three months and haven’t passed any kind of economic legislation.
This situation could eventually mirror what happened in the Clinton Administration when the 1993 budget bill, which led to the boom economy in the mid-to-late nineties, was passed without a single Republican vote. Yet the American public credited the accomplishments to both Clinton and the Republican Congress, which took power after the bill went into effect.
The test for President Obama in 2012 is whether he can remind the American people which party has truly kept their eye on the nation’s economic concerns. If Obama can do that, he should have no problem winning another term.
Nick Field is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and a liberal columnist.