When top Bush aid Karen Hughes went on Fox News Sunday to respond to John Kerry’s charges that somehow the U.S. “lost” Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora — because we “outsourced” the heavy lifting to Afghan warlords — my ears picked up. Hughes was very clear in saying that Delta Force people, the tops in our special-ops, were in command of the operation. This marked the first real response to Kerry’s attack, which has hung around for most of this campaign.
Trouble is, the rebuttal came a little late in the game. And with all due respect to Fox’s excellent Sunday news show, only a small chunk of the electorate probably saw it.
In the Wall Street Journal on Monday, retired Gen. Michael DeLong — Tommy Frank’s deputy in charge of the Afghanistan war at CENTCOM — also rebutted the Kerry charge. He did so even more thoroughly than Hughes. He said the U.S. used a combination of special forces and CIA agents along with native Afghan warlords in a successful operation to dump the Taliban in a matter of weeks, “a feat which tens of thousands of Soviet troops were unable to accomplish in a matter of years.”
The fact that free elections have just occurred in Afghanistan is clear proof that the U.S. strategy worked. So is the fact that Osama bin Laden’s weak, defensive, almost surrendering video tape proves that the U.S. has crippled the al-Qaeda network. There’s no more talk of world jihad from OBL. Instead, he basically says, “If the U.S. leaves us alone, we’ll leave you alone.” Of course, we won’t. Eventually, the madman will be killed or captured.
Even Bush’s worst critics concede the Afghanistan saga is a brilliant success. Yet — for some reason — President Bush failed to respond head-on to Kerry’s ridiculous Tora Bora outsourcing charge until the very end of the campaign. Actually, the president himself hasn’t yet mentioned the involvement of Delta Force soldiers in the operation. This fact had to come from Hughes and Delong. Why the communications failure to rebut Kerry’s charges? We may never know.
These scary silences have also occurred on the economics front. All campaign long Kerry has flogged Bush on the issue of lost jobs. Using the business survey of non-farm payrolls, Kerry attacked Bush on this issue again and again. It was an effective tactic: The bipartisan blue-chip Battleground poll reports a 51 percent to 40 percent Kerry advantage on job-creation.
Yet there is another jobs survey taken by the Labor Department. It’s called the Current Population Survey of Households and has been measuring unemployment all the way back to 1940. It scores the volume of people actually working, and includes self-employed entrepreneurs, which the payroll survey does not. It paints a much more rosy picture of the current jobs situation.
Rather than a net loss of jobs during the president’s first term, this survey shows that 1.7 million more people are working today than when Bush took office. If you figure in an inherited recession and the economic aftershocks of the 9/11 attacks, the survey shows that 3.4 million more people are working today. The unemployment rate, which is based on the household survey, is at a historically low 5.4 percent. A record level of 140 million Americans are now working.
Yet Bush never once mentioned this other survey. He seldom even mentioned the unemployment rate. He did talk about record home ownership, but he never tied his pro-growth tax cuts to the revival in gross domestic product, which has been rising at a 3.5 percent annual rate since the recession, in line with America’s long-term growth trend.
In other words, the president’s policies have restored American prosperity after unprecedented wartime shocks. Yet these simple facts and figures went largely unused while Kerry’s strong attacks on jobs went largely unanswered.
Just last Friday, the latest report on gross domestic product showed nearly 4 percent growth with very low inflation. Personal incomes are rising by about 5 percent, as is consumer spending. Business firms, which suffered the brunt of the recession, are now spending at a roughly 15 percent annual pace — yet another sign of solid economic recovery.
Numerous Wall Street commentators cited the balanced low-inflationary growth of the economy as something that could be maintained for years to come. No boom, no bust –just solid sustainable economic growth. Add to that a dollop of record productivity gains and historically low interest rates, and it becomes clear why the temporary oil-price shock (largely from China demand) has hardly dented the economic rebound.
Oh, and did I forget that per capita GDP just recorded a new U.S. record high? It has, surpassing $40,000.
Even on the outsourcing question — let alone outsourcing Tora Bora — Bush could have struck back at Kerry. He could have pointed to numerous studies that show how outsourcing lost only a tiny fraction of jobs in the U.S., while the insourcing of jobs from foreign companies relocating in the U.S. has actually produced a job surplus. By the way, in the key battleground state of Ohio, foreign corporate relocation has produced thousands of new jobs — a point I have not seen anyone on Team Bush make.
Cabinet officers like Treasury man John Snow and Commerce Secretary and First Friend Don Evans have been out on the campaign trail talking about the “other” jobs survey, as well as lots of other positive economic stats. But they are not the president; they don’t command the front pages or the nightly news. Neither does Karen Hughes. Nor does Gen. DeLong. Only the president can do that, using the vast power of his office.
That key points on national security and the economy have been left unrebutted is one of the tragedies of this campaign. I still believe Bush will win, and I have already cast an absentee ballot to that end. He will win because the majority of voters will not wish to change horses in the middle of the global war against radical Islamism and its terrorist tactics. This is no time for on the job training for a new commander-in-chief, especially candidate Kerry who is so wishy-washy on the entire subject.
Bush will win because the U.S. has not experienced any attacks in over three years, and because he has been unwavering and steadfast in conducting this war. And while the economy has not been spectacular enough to satisfy his critics, it surely hasn’t been bad enough to merit turning the incumbent out of office.
If my view is wrong, however, and Bush is defeated, surely his failure to communicate his successes will be one of the main reasons for such a tragic defeat.
— Larry Kudlow, NRO’s Economics Editor, is CEO of Kudlow & Co. and host with Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer.