Expect to hear a lot about the "myth" during tonight's debate in Tempe.
At a Republican barbeque in Ohio Monday, Treasury Secretary John Snow said it was a "myth" that Bush will end his first term with a net loss in jobs. The budget surplus Bush inherited when he took office? That was a "mirage," Snow said.
The ill-timed comments play right into the Kerry campaign's frame for the debates: The president can't fix problems because he doesn't acknowledge that they exist. The Kerry campaign has already issued statements from both Kerry and John Edwards about the treasury secretary's snow job, and it may be Exhibit A in tonight's debate.
The truth -- courtesy of factcheck.org -- is this: Since Bush took office, the country has suffered a net loss of 585,000 jobs. It's a bad fact for the country, but a good one for the Kerry campaign. At virtually every campaign stop -- and you can be sure he'll say it again tonight -- Kerry notes that Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to suffer a net loss in jobs.
However, Kerry's point is sometimes lost in the post-debate fact-checking. When Kerry slams Bush on the economy, he says that 1.6 million jobs have been lost on Bush's watch. But that number is only a measure of private sector employment -- it does not count the many government jobs that have been added during this Republican administration. So when Kerry uses the 1.6 million number, fact checkers in the media throw up their hands and say both candidates are fudging the numbers on jobs.
Why doesn't Kerry just use the overall number? Joe Lockhart tells Salon that there's a history behind Kerry's choice. "Republicans used to scream about using the overall numbers because they said, 'Government is creating all these jobs,'" Lockhart said. "So there has been a tradition among Democrats, at least since I was in the White House, to talk about private sector job growth."
Whatever the "right" number is, count on Kerry tonight to pound on the president for failing to do more on jobs. And if the tenor of Lockhart's words is any indication, count on Kerry's attacks to be aggressive. "Tonight it's very important for the president to stand up in front of the American people and take responsibility for all that has happened on his watch," Lockhart said. "The job loss was a 'myth'? The surplus was a 'myth'? I might agree that the 2000 election was a myth because he didn't win, but so be it."