Romney’s Bad Jobs Answer and Obama’s Disastrous Reply

President Barack Obama talks with teachers during a education roundtable at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas on Aug. 22, 2012

Photograph by Jim Watson/AFP/GettyImages.

Pondering things this morning, I was puzzling over my recollection that neither candidate outlined a program to address the years-long spell of mass unemployment we’re living through. Reading the transcript, I see that I’m wrong about that. They both addressed mass unemployment—it’s just that their answers were incredibly lame. Right up top, Mitt Romney offered the same five-point plan that he offered at the Republican convention. Indeed, as Mike Konczal’s written it’s the exact same five-point plan John McCain had in 2008 and that George W. Bush outlined in his 2006 State of the Union Address and at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Republicans have been lamely offering the same pabulum in all circumstances for almost a decade.

In return, Obama gave us this:

Well, let me talk specifically about what I think we need to do. First, we’ve got to improve our education system and we’ve made enormous progress drawing on ideas both from Democrats and Republicans that are already starting to show gains in some of the toughest to deal with schools. We’ve got a program called Race to the Top that has prompted reforms in 46 states around the country, raising standards, improving how we train teachers.

So now I want to hire another 100,000 new math and science teachers, and create 2 million more slots in our community colleges so that people can get trained for the jobs that are out there right now. And I want to make sure that we keep tuition low for our young people.

And then pivoted to talking about tax reform. 

Now look. K-12 education is important. It’s really important. It’s become fashionable among more liberal people to deride the importance of improving school quality and I think that’s a huge mistake. But we need to be clear about this. Most Americans are not schoolkids. By definition, unemployed Americans are not in seventh grade. If you’re a shift worker who makes an okay wage but can’t get enough hours to make ends meet, improving the high school graduation rate doesn’t help you. If you haven’t had a raise in three years and don’t feel you can credibly threaten to quit because there are no help wanted signs in town, Race to the Top is not addressing your problem.

The absurd thing about it is that the president has a program to address the short-term jobs crisis called the American Jobs Act that credible analysts say could create almost 2 million jobs and that congressional Republicans are blocking out of opposition to higher taxes on the wealthy. Talking about that would be a way of engaging the argument. Talking about education reform just isn’t—it’s like a narrowcast answer aimed an exclusive audience of David Brooks.