it’s still the economy, stupid

Posted on March 10, 2008

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John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama can squabble all the want about who will make the best commander-in-chief or be the toughest in safeguarding the nation.

But if they want to win in the general election, they should do well to remember, especially Clinton, what helped Bill Clinton win in 1992 — “The Economy, stupid.”

The economic news keeps getting grimmer everyday. February saw the second straight monthly decline of job figures, with a 63,000 plunge in the number of jobs lost. The US dollar continues to lose its value against other currencies, oil prices persist in challenging their record high prices and the stock market cannot seem to stop swooning.

And while the housing market has been giving countless heart attacks to homeowners, the credit and the construction industries, the gravity of the situation really hit home when the Federal Reserve announced a $200 billion fund to ease illiquidity in banks.

The New York Times sure got it right when it said the good times as we know it, could well be over very soon.

So it’s no wonder that poll after poll showed that the economy and/ or jobs is the topmost concern or issue of those surveyed.

One of the most recent, a CBS News/ New York Times poll had 33% of respondents naming the economy and jobs as the most important problems facing the country. The second most important, the war in Iraq, was cited by 20% of the respondents.

A USA Today/ Gallup Poll yielded similar results, as did those done by NBC News/ Wall Street Journal and other news outlets.

On this issue, the Democrats seem to have an edge over the Republicans, when it came to perceptions on which party would be better able to handle the economy.

A survey sponsored by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 53% of respondents thought the Democrats would be better at dealing with the economy, versus 34% who thought the Republicans would be better. More also believed that the Democrats would handle the tax system better than the Republicans (49% to 37%).

Clinton herself got a first hand experience of the urgency of the economic issue. Her campaign was recently given a lifeline by Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, many experts say, because of her “red phone” advertisement. But in Ohio where she beat Obama by a 10 percentage point margin, those Ohioans who strongly stated that the economy is their biggest priority went for the New York senator.

So while the debate about who can out-Rambo the other is important enough, the candidates really ought to beef up their economic messages and come up with well thought-out plans about how they are going to deal with the economy and get the good times rolling again when they get into the White House. It’s most probably the biggest thing on which they would be judged.

And actually, the candidates could also benefit from referring to former president Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville’s two other points in the campaign’s central goals and core messages, as they still make pretty good sense in 2008: “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care”.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: The more things change, the more they stay the same, indeed.

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