The defense rests

Robert Samuelson has a good piece in the Washington Post about “the phony jobs debate.” As Samuelson explains, presidents can’t do much to influence short term job creation. Indeed, Samuelson argues, “John Kerry and John Edwards must grasp a president’s modest job-creating powers; otherwise, they wouldn’t be fit for the White House. Their jobs obsession is dishonest expediency.”
Nonetheless, as Samuelson seems to recognize, presidents will always be held accountable for the employment situation during “their watch.” But this doesn’t mean that there’s no hope for President Bush on this issue. Trial lawyers sometimes say that if you have to explain more than two very bad facts, you’re probably in trouble no matter how good the explanations are. And increased unemployment is a very bad fact. But it seems to me that the following explanation (if consistent with the facts as they continue to develop) is straightforward enough to carry the day — the bleak jobs picture during the first half of the Bush administration couldn’t have had much to do with President Bush because (a) he wasn’t in office long enough to affect the economy and (b) 9/11 happened. The relevant period to examine is 2003 and especially 2004, during which time the employment picture has improved markedly. In this connection, Samuelson notes a recent survey that found, on average, that economists expect 2 million jobs to be created this year.