The presidential campaign is over. So pack it up, Mitt Romney. Forget about that post-debate bump in the polls. Just find a dog, put it on the roof and drive away.
President Barack Obama will be filling those upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court, perhaps with unemployed Chicago aldermen, thank you very much. He's got it all under control.
And Happy Days Are Here Again.
That's the song my wily broadcast partner Jake Hartford was playing on WLS-AM on Friday, where we're filling in as midmorning co-hosts in the 9 a.m.-to-11 a.m. slot. We used two different versions of the old FDR theme, and we even played the "Happy Days" TV show theme. The audience is quick and political and they got the joke, but a few didn't.
"You take a stupid pill?" one caller wanted to ask, but we didn't have time to take the call.
So forget the polls, the next two presidential debates and this week's vice presidential debate with Preacher Joe Biden again itching to cram his loafers into his own mouth. And forget especially that last debate. Just forget about it. Who wants to talk about Romney slapping Obama around the debate floor? That's so old.
There's news from the U.S. Department of Labor about as nice as getting a hug from Big Bird. The unemployment rate is now 7.8 percent. It was 8.1 percent last month. About 114,000 new jobs have been added. And somewhere in the Book of Covering Presidential Campaigns, it surely must be written in the blood of Edwin Newman that if the unemployment number drops below 8 percent, Obama cruises to victory.
It doesn't matter that millions of Americans have given up looking for work so they're not counted in the statistics, and millions upon millions are underemployed, or that a record 46 million are on what we used to call food stamps. It doesn't matter that many of the new jobs aren't so hot, unless you really want to biggie-size your pants. But it's over. Obama wins. Obama wins.
"President Barack Obama celebrated much-needed good economic news Friday as the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level since he took office," applauded the Associated Press.
"We are moving forward again!" Obama told a cheering crowd.
The media narrative sounded like this: This should energize the Obama campaign! Such good news after the debate could kick-start the Obama effort in the battleground states! Obama is revitalized!
And so on and so forth, et cetera, et cetera.
Yet only a few days ago, just minutes after Obama was thrashed in the first debate by Romney, you didn't hear "Happy Days." What happened to the president wasn't anything like being hugged by a gigantic, yellow, tax-subsidized puppet. It was more like being stuck alone in an elevator with Mike Tyson.
All I could hear were bloodcurdling shrieks of pain, anguish, fear and loathing. And even after I turned off MSNBC — to mute those horrifying sounds of harpies rending their own flesh in desperation — you could still hear the post-debate agony.
And when the Republicans began beating their breasts so loudly for Romney, I thought he'd just led the 300 Spartans against Xerxes at the hot gates of Thermopylae.
But it was only Denver.
There was Romney, triumphant, presidential, in command. Obama was overwhelmed, unfocused, as if Harold & Kumar handled his debate prep. Al Gore later insisted that it was the Rocky Mountain altitude that befuddled the president, but here's my theory:
The president is the luckiest politician in history. He hasn't been in a real fight. And he doesn't like fights. The last time Obama had a real challenge, it came from U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, who played the race card against him (oh yes) and whipped him in a congressional campaign. After that, Obama wised up. He didn't challenge the Illinois bosses. He learned how to get along and slide.
In his first presidential primary, he ran into the formidable Hillary Clinton. But Chicago expertly played the race card against the Clintons, and Obama pulled in all that Hollywood money. Hillary and Bill understand Democratic primary math. She was on her heels, and she was done.
Then in the 2008 general election, he ran up against Sen. John McCain. But the aged Republican came off in debates like some geezer who'd gotten a chunk of food grit on his tongue and couldn't scrape it off. Obama smiled and rode that messianic wave to the White House.
Against Romney things were different. Obama finally got a hard challenge. He'd never sought confrontation, not with the bosses in Chicago, and so he flinched before 70 million viewers, allowing Romney back into the race with a month to go. Now the new job numbers allow the president to change the subject.
But 7.8 percent isn't the real unemployment number. As I've argued before, the real unemployment number is the U6 rate — which includes part-time workers who want full-time work. The U6 rate is about 15 percent.
The problem for Romney is that U6 isn't a sexy name. It's not the "Big Bird Bites Index" or the "Presidential Misery Factor," so it can be ignored by those who wish to ignore it. Besides, isn't it easier for us to sing?
The skies above are clear again / Let us sing a song of cheer again / Happy days are here again.