For those of you who follow politics and the the economy closely—especially if you're also a Democrat—Rep. Paul Ryan's assertion during last Thursday's debate that the unemployment rate is going up "all around America" was enough to make you shake your head in disbelief. It might have even made you shake your fists at the television. But even though that talking point's not accurate, it's still on the Romney surrogate cheat sheet.
Here's what Sen. Rob Portman said Sunday on ABC's This Week.
TAPPER: "That's how it's going all around America." Now, Senator, this has been a weak economic recovery without question, but it is a recovery. And unemployment is going down, just as a factual matter. Why would Congressman Ryan, in defiance of facts, suggest otherwise?
PORTMAN: You know, I think what he was saying is the truth, which is unemployment's higher today than it was when the president took office. And, you know, unfortunately, in the meantime, we've created net zero jobs, Jake. This is the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
Here's the reality:
- Unemployment rate in February 2009 (Pres. Obama's first full month in office): 8.3%
- Unemployment rate in September 2012: 7.8%
Unemployment is simply not higher than when Pres. Obama took over. If you want to be precise, it was 7.8% in January 2009, but Obama was running the country for only one third of that month. At best, Portman could reasonably argue that the unemployment rate is the same today as it was the day Pres. Obama took office, but to say that it's higher is simply false. The September jobs report also showed that we have had net job creation since the president took office. Portman ignored the facts.
As Vice President Joe Biden reminded us in last week's debate, facts matter. But for Republicans, and especially Romney, what matters more is winning the election. That's why his surrogates like Portman are ignoring reality.
It's not hard to imagine why. The GOP argument earlier in this campaign focused on admitting we were in an economic recovery, but claiming that the recovery was not good enough. That argument wasn't impressing people in either party. This new line may not be true, but "things are worse, vote for me to fix it" sounds a lot more convincing than "things are slightly better, but they should be way better, so vote for me."
This also may explain why polls show voters find Obama more trustworthy than Romney. According to the new ABC-Washington Post poll of registered voters:
Is Obama honest and trustworthy?
Is Romney honest and trustworthy?
We saw Biden get a lot of praise from Democrats for calling Ryan out during their debate, while Obama got a big share of criticism from the base for not challenging Romney when those two met face-to-face. It will be interesting to see how much the president decides to mimic Biden's style and confront Romney's interpretation of the facts in the next debate, and even more interesting to see what impact that has on voters.
If Romney repeats this talking point in front of Obama during this week's debate, the president will have an opportunity to set the record straight on economic recovery and call Romney out for clinging to false talking points. It remains to be seen what undecided voters will think of a move like that.