The good news that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent is particularly bad news for Mitt Romney, whose gloom-and-doom campaign message has been that only he can turn around President Obama's economic disaster. That's a harder case to make when the economy is already turning around.
Republicans were uncharacteristically slow to respond to Friday's jobs news, as BuzzFeed's Zeke MIller notes, and when they did they contained notes of, well, something other than the usual despair at American decline. House Speaker John Boehner lambasted Senate Democrats for not doing enough, but even he had to acknowledge "“There are flickers of hope in our recovery and certainly they’re welcome." Romney stuck to his guns, arguing that Obama had “prevented a true recovery," which seems to give the incumbent at least some credit for a fake recovery.
It's quite a change from the message that he'd been pushing, which could be summarized by Monica's advice to Rachel on the first episode of Friends a million years ago: "Welcome to the real world. It sucks."
Romney kicked off his candidacy with a bunch of ruin porn -- speeches and ads featuring abandoned factories and strip malls with trees growing out of windows. Earlier this month, Romney was discussing putting commercials on public television with a West Palm Beach crowd when he said, "I like Big Bird." But, he added, more in bleakness than in anger, "I'm afraid Big Bird is going to have to get used to Kellogg's Corn Flakes." Romney wasn't really cheering advertising cereal to children, just that Sesame Street needs to accept that the world's the kind of place where children don't get to sit and watch TV without someone blaring commercials at them every eight minutes. The world sucks and we're going to love it.
"He didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer," Romney said last summer, before backtracking and then retracking. If Obama's reelected, the Republican candidate told Fox News in December, “I think we hit a Greece-like wall." In January, he had to tweak his message slightly, telling Laura Ingraham,
"Of course it’s getting better. The economy always gets better after the recession. There’s always a recovery. There’s never been a time anywhere in the world where an economy has never recovered. The question is how is recovered by virtue of something the president has done or has he delayed the recovery and made it more painful? And the latter, of course, is the truth."
As National Review's Jonah Goldberg pointed out, when Ingraham responded that he was making a tricky argument -- Obama made the economy better but I would make it even more better -- Romney got cranky. “Do you have a better one, Laura?”
In the face of these unwanted good news, Romney is trying something new: compassion. "This is the real State of the Union," Romney says in an ad featuring his pre-buttal to Obama's State of the Union address. "The unemployed don't get tickets to sit next to the first lady." In Nevada this week, Romney said in a campaign speech, “This presidency has not worked. And these are not just numbers and statistics. These are real people.” See what Romney's trying to do there? It's liberals who are supposed to have the bleeding hearts, while conservatives are cold hard numbers-oriented dismal scientists. But Romney's trying to flip that. He's the one who cares -- this robot Uncle Moneybags has a heart. A human heart. Of course, that image was undercut a bit by his not-so-bleeding-heart comment "I am not concerned about the very poor," not to mention its robotic followup, "It was a misstatement; I misspoke. I’ve said something that is similar to that but quite acceptable for a long time." ("Am I in error? Whirrrr chirp chirp beeeep.")