A New York Times article published Tuesday suggests that the focus of the 2012 presidential campaign has shifted away from the economy this week. With a cavalcade of political faux pas, the media has quelled economic discussions to make way for stories like Joe Biden’s “back in chains” comment and Mitt Romney’s “take your campaign of hate back to Chicago” response. There was no time to talk about stagnant growth with stories like Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” gaffe and a skinny dip in the Sea of Galilee chewing up airtime. Even Romney’s vice presidential selection of Paul Ryan, whose Budget Committee background could have refocused the debate on the economy, seems to be centering the discussion on Medicare and not the budget. Social and gossip stories are beginning to influence voters as much, if not more, than analyses of who has a better plan to pay off our nearly $16 trillion debt.
It is accepted political lore that voters care most about the economy when choosing their presidential candidate. No president has ever won reelection in economic circumstances similar to those in which President Obama finds himself for this campaign. And indeed the Obama campaign strategy has appeared to focus more on social issues and not on plans to reinvigorate domestic growth. It would appear as though this was a good week for the Obama campaign. Two questions arise from this recent diffused media focus: Is the economy less important to voters than it has been in the past? And should the Obama campaign fear the economy in the first place?
Perhaps voters are getting tired of hearing about the economy. This election cycle does make this topic a difficult one on which to focus. No one really knows who to blame for our economic woes. On one hand the Obama camp can point fingers at the Bush administration for costly tax cuts and foreign wars, and claim that the president prevented an even worse situation. On the other hand, the Romney camp can rightly point out that the president has not lived up to his promise to cut the inherited deficit in half by the end of his first term. No one can deny that our financial situation is precarious. While there are many important issues in this campaign, the economy should not fade from the limelight.
However, the Obama campaign should not shirk from economic questions should the economy return to the center of our collective attention. By brushing off economic questions, it makes it appear as though political opponents are correct in their blaming economic turmoil entirely on the Obama administration. An effective Obama campaign will face challenging questions regarding the economy and refer to the data that is out there supporting the president’s economic actions.
There is an old adage that goes something like, “Ask the advice of two economists and you'll get three opinions.” The point being that economics is a fluid science that can be interpreted in several ways. The Obama administration can and should argue that their economic plan is working.