American Unemployment and Elections

Concluding a sensational convention in New York with a speech that emphasized unflinching strength, President Bush got more good news this morning. The Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate had dropped to 5.4 percent — the lowest proportion of Americans out of work in three years.

By comparison, the unemployment rate in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for a second term was higher — at 5.5 percent. The new U.S. unemployment rate is about half that of France and Germany.

The unemployment rate today is lower than the average during the 1990s, during the 1980s and during the 1970s.

Usually, in an election, it’s the unemployment rate that has the most influence on voters, but, this time around, the media have been emphasizing a different number: job gains. Why? Well, most likely because those gains, in June and July, were anemic, embarrassing the president — the guy whom the vast majority of journalists want to lose.

Month-to-month job gains, as reported by the statisticians, are practically meaningless. They are drastically adjusted for seasonality, and they are based on small samples. They pose as precise figures, written in a thin-point pen, but they are actually crude numbers, written in crayon.

Employment stats certainly mean something in the long term (when you add them up), but, in the short term, unemployment figures — which are not free of their own drawbacks — are more meaningful.

This is not an excuse for the president. In fact, the Labor Department announced that August payrolls rose 144,000 — a good, solid increase, in line with estimates. Also, the jobs gain for July was revised upward, more than doubling to 73,000. Manufacturing employment in August increased by an admirable 22,000. Average hourly wages rose 0.3 percent.

Overall, the United States has added nearly 1.5 million new jobs since January. At that pace, about 2.5 million new jobs should be added by the end of the year. Already, more Americans are working today than ever in our history.

But, frankly, it’s not good enough. As the website put it, “This was a strong report, especially when revisions are taken into consideration. But it is not a stellar report.”

How can we do better? Certainly not by raising taxes, as John Kerry urges. Kerry’s tax increases would eliminate the bulk of the savings from the dividend and capital-gains cuts and would raise rates by more than 10 percent, not just on higher-income individuals but on the millions of small businesses that fuel the economy.

No, the best approach is the one outlined by President Bush last night: reform Social Security, which will increase savings and lower the cost of capital; simplify the Tax Code and make the tax cuts permanent to dampen risks for businesses and individual consumers and investors and boost spending and investment; and expand trade, both to lower the costs of goods coming into the U.S. and to make new markets for our own products.

This morning, in Moosic, Pa., the President responded to the nonsense being peddled by the Kerry campaign about our shipping jobs overseas. Bush said that, if we want to keep jobs at home and, in fact, add to them briskly, then, “This has got to be the best place in the world to do business.”

In one way, the U.S. already is. We have the world’s best consumer market — which is the main reason that Japanese automakers, for example, locate plants here. But we make few efforts — through tax cuts and other incentives — to attract foreign businesses and keep jobs at home. Why do semiconductor plants, for example, locate abroad? Not because of cheap labor, which represents barely 5 percent of the cost of running a fab. But, in large part, because countries like Taiwan and China offer terrific tax incentives.

The jobs report did, indeed, offer good news to the president — good enough, I would suspect, to defuse much of the talk about a lousy economy. (Americans themselves think they’re doing pretty well; surveys show that they consider the state of their personal finances above-average.)

But we can do better.

Will Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” Defeat a President?

Michael Moore, once a scruffy maker of cheap, funny, satirical documentaries, now puffs himself with the plaudits of the metrosexuals of Hollywood and Cannes. Having portrayed Americans as a bunch of gun-happy lunatics in “Bowling for Columbine,” he’s now shooting at President Bush and the war in Iraq with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which opens nationwide on June 25. Moore, famous for his puerile diatribe at the 2002 Academy Awards (“we live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president”), has higher ambitions. According to Philip Shenon of the New York Times, Moore wants his new movie “to be remembered as the first big-audience election-year film that helped unseat a president.”

Miramax Films, which is releasing the movie, “has hired a team of hardened Democratic apparatchiks,” writes the Guardian newspaper of Britain, “including Hillary Clinton’s former campaign press secretary, Howard Wolfson, top Gore adviser Michael Feldman and Clinton White House advisers Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane,” to promote the film and defend it against detractors.

“We want the word out,” Moore says. “Any attempts to libel me will be met by force.” Shenon notes that Moore makes this threat with “not an ounce of humor in his familiar voice.” Mr. Tough Guy, balling up his fists. He dishes it out, but can he take it? We’ll see. Now, let me stipulate that I have not seen this movie. I wasn’t invited to the screenings, but I have read the advance articles, and I went to Moore’s website and watched the trailer. The story line is no surprise. Moore’s worldview is predictably Marxian and conspiratorial. Money and corporate power are behind everything. Republicans — especially that numbskull graduate of Yale and Harvard who sits in the White House — are callous, corrupt, and stupid. Secret plots abound. For example, Moore spends several minutes in the film documenting ties between the president and what Shenon describes as an American “financial advisor to a prominent member of the bin Laden family.” The advisor even served with Bush in the Air National Guard in the early 1970s!

Cartoon by Cox and Forkum

But don’t expect journalism. This is “not a network news report,” another member of the Moore team, Dev Chatillon, the former general counsel to the New Yorker, says. This is opinion or, more precisely, oh-so-stylish propaganda.

What’s the harm? Plenty. The United States is engaged in a war with a dangerous enemy that killed 3,000 people in New York and would like to kill another three million — take out an entire city with a nuclear or biological device. The cheering crowds in Cannes may not believe it, but the threat to civilization posed by the terrorists is dead serious.

By the time George Bush took office, terrorists had already taken several shots at us, bombing the World Trade Center, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, embassies in Africa and the U.S.S. Cole. Our pitiful response to these outrages encouraged the attack of 9/11.

Since then, the United States has liberated 50 million people in two countries, captured Saddam Hussein, disrupted the Al Qaeda network, and, contrary to the expectation of the vast majority of Americans, there has not been another terrorist attack on our soil.

Certainly, there have been mistakes, and constructive criticism is always warranted. The sad truth, however, is that the left is so intellectually bereft at this point in its history that the buffoonery of Michael Moore is about all they’ve got. So they’re promoting it like crazy.

Moore’s movie draws its title from Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” later made into a brilliant movie by Francois Truffaut. “Fahrenheit 451” was about a brutal, futuristic society in which books are banned and burned. Bradbury is angry that Moore expropriated his title and wants the movie renamed. But perhaps it’s appropriate that the inspiration was a story about book-burning. The introspection, contemplation, subtlety, adult seriousness and cool reason that we associate with good books are precisely the qualities that are ritually immolated by Moore in his movies. Moore, like his French confreres, has never had much respect for the intelligence of the American public. He seems to be betting is that voters will be so dazzled by his cleverness and cross-cutting that they’ll forget about the war on terror and boot Bush out of office. But, really, will “Fahrenheit 9/11” defeat a president? Fat chance.