Misapplying the burden of proof

Updated
 
The jobs agenda Congress should have passed, but didn't.
The jobs agenda Congress should have passed, but didn't.

About a month ago, shortly after the last jobs report was released, The Daily Show ran a game-show-style segment called “Polish That Turd.” The point was, after awful jobs news, Republicans were on the attack, and it was up to the Obama White House and its allies to put a positive spin on disheartening data.

It was a funny bit, and it was premised on the widely-held conventional wisdom: the burden is on the president, and no one else. When the job numbers are good, it’s proof of Obama’s wisdom; when the job numbers are bad, it’s proof of Obama’s missteps.

Perhaps now would be a good time for a reality check. Last fall, Obama said the job market wasn’t nearly strong enough, and he proposed an ambitious jobs plan called the American Jobs Act. Independent estimates showed that the policy, if implemented, would create as many as 1.9 million U.S. jobs in 2012 alone. Congressional Republicans, however, killed it.

Indeed, consider this pattern of events:

1. With the job market struggling, Obama unveils the American Jobs Act, a State of the Union agenda filled with economic measures, and an economic “to-do list.”

2. Republican lawmakers ignore the proposals, and the job market deteriorates.

3. The GOP then blames Obama when job numbers disappoint.

The accepted truth this morning is that weak job numbers are absolute, concrete, incontrovertible proof that the president’s jobs agenda isn’t working. News flash: we aren’t trying Obama’s jobs agenda.

It’s only natural for the public to want to blame someone when they’re frustrated, and Obama’s the one in the Oval Office. If the president had a “push here to create jobs” button on his desk, holding him responsible might even make sense. But it wasn’t Obama who laid off 600,000 state and local public-sector workers; it wasn’t Obama who decided to leave construction workers idle despite the need for infrastructure projects; it wasn’t Obama who told the Fed to sit on its hands; and it wasn’t Obama who asked Congress to ignore job growth for the last year and a half.

In the meantime, there’s Mitt Romney, who recently touted a pro-layoff agenda, and who’s absolutely convinced everything will be fine once he’s able to cut taxes even more and frees Wall Street of the burdens of accountability and responsibility.

Something to keep in mind today as some in American politics celebrate the bad news.

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Misapplying the burden of proof

Updated