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What if the economy turns?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  December 2, 2011 08:52 AM

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Could this be it?

When the Labor Department announced this morning that the U.S. had added 120,000 jobs last month, nudging the unemployment rate from 9% to 8.6%, you better believe there was dancing at the White House.

Metaphorically, at least.

After topping 9% for most of the last two years, unemployment has finally broken through a stubborn barrier - which may finally encourage large companies to start spending their hordes of cash - over a trillion dollars, according to NPR.

On CNBC this morning, Ed Lazear, who advised George W. Bush on the economy and now teaches at Stanford, said he believes the U.S. may have finally turned the corner.

And Austan Goolsbee, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Obama administration, noted that "like the bunny, we keep coming back."

The markets were certainly cheered. After running up almost 500 points earlier in the week, the Dow opened up substantially on news of the falling unemployment rate.

But for those watching the presidential race, the question is: what now? With eleven months until voters head to the polls to pick a new commander-in-chief, what happens if the economy starts roaring (or sputtering) forward?

After all, this has been a race built on a terrible economy.

The improbable rise of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich were all fueled - in part - by the desires of a desperate, disillusioned electorate.

Even Mitt Romney - the sort-of front runner in the Republican primary - has constructed his appeal on a foundation of business experience.

So, what happens if the economy recedes in voters' minds?

Foreign policy and social issues will undoubtedly resurface.

And in foreign policy, at least, Republicans face a serious divide. There are those like Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman who argue (to different degrees) that we are overextended abroad, that it is time to repatriate troops and money. Nation-building, they say, is folly.

Romney, meanwhile, has fully embraced a muscular foreign policy. "This century must be an American Century," he said in an October speech at The Citadel. "In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world."

While Ron Paul has called for massive defense savings - and has consistently won substantial support in primary polls - Romney is staking out a different position: "I will reverse President Obama’s massive defense cuts," he said at The Citadel.

If the economy turns, the Republican field may start to show real fissures. But, then again, an internal debate could strengthen the party as it looks ahead to November.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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