Romney and the doomsayers

The U.S. unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level in about four years. Real estate foreclosure filings fell last month to the lowest number since the summer of 2007. Meanwhile, the stock market has enjoyed a pretty nice 2012, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up about 9 percent on the year on top of even bigger gains during the previous two years.

All around, there are overwhelming signs of an improved economy. At times it seems that only the sluggish response of government — both in Europe, where some countries remain perilously close to insolvency, and in the Congress, where lawmakers seem unable to agree on any fiscal policy longer than a few months in duration — is keeping a lid on global growth opportunities.


The recovery, albeit slower than many in the past but with more ground to make up than any downturn since the Great Depression, may be picking up a head of steam, even in the long-stagnant housing market. Yet all around, a sense of pessimism reigns. For many, the glass is not merely half empty; whatever contents it holds are assumed to be poisonous.

Republicans have become the chief anti-cheerleaders, and Mitt Romney is their captain. This is hardly a surprise, since they've tried to both tie the 2007 recession to President Barack Obama and discredit the subsequent recovery from the beginning. Sometimes, it seems as if the right-wing hatred of the incumbent transcends all reason.


Take, for instance, the news this week that Goldman Sachs executives have gone from overwhelmingly supporting Mr. Obama in 2008 to lining up almost unanimously behind Mr. Romney this year. It isn't the president's policies on taxing the rich that turn them off; the company's CEO recently said he'd willingly pay more to reduce the nation's debt. It's the president's efforts to regulate Wall Street — and perhaps even speeches where Mr. Obama used the phrase "fat-cat bankers."

Apparently, the record profits and bonuses Goldman's top managers accrued during the Obama term didn't result in much sense of gratitude. It's fine to blame joblessness on the White House, but a doubling in the Dow's value is apparently easily overlooked even by those in the financial services industry who profited most.

Meanwhile, Romney supporters like former General Electric CEO Jack Welch are suggesting improved jobs numbers are the result of some administration conspiracy and not what they are, the product of a bunch of career statisticians, not political appointees, who crunch the numbers year in and year out. "Unbelievable jobs numbers…these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers," is what Mr. Welch tweeted on Oct. 5. He then reinforced that cynical view in a Wall Street Journal op-ed five days later in which he suggested the outrageous comment lacked only a "few question marks."

Let's try that: These Chicago guys will do anything. These Chicago guys will do anything??? Hmm, doesn't seem to change the meaning all that much.

One of the more amusing results of all this negativism is to watch some of the Republican governors try to support Mr. Romney's gloomy assessment while simultaneously touting their own accomplishments. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is thrilled by Ohio's economic improvements over the last two years but tries to downplay how much the auto industry bailout helped — even though bankruptcy could have cost the state tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of jobs.

But the biggest purveyors of gloom and doom are surely the right-wing media. It was certainly challenging to find any evidence of the low September foreclosure rate on the Fox News website on the day it was announced. It may have been crowded out by news of how a Mexican telecom makes money providing phone service (Fox called them "Obamaphones") to the working poor under the federal "Lifeline" program that dates to the 1980s.

No doubt this steady stream of negativity has had an adverse effect on consumer confidence. Should Mr. Romney win, you can bet the roles will reverse and Democrats will be the ones seeing the clouds in every silver lining. But that doesn't make it right. Times are tough. Unemployment is still far too high, and the gap between rich and poor is growing. But the appropriate response is to at least acknowledge reality, the good and the bad, and not scare the public for political advantage.