For half a year or more, each monthly jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has caused speculation not just about the future of the world’s largest economy but that of its current chief executive. Barack Obama inherited America’s economic plight, and opinions differ as to whether his policies prevented a worse crisis or delayed a recovery. Inevitably, however, the economy will determine the outcome of Obama’s reelection bid, and so pundits fall on each month’s jobs data like Romans eager for a glimpse of the future in the entrails of a sacrificial bird.
Though December’s U.S. unemployment rate of 8.5% was the lowest since February 2009, and though the rate has dropped for four consecutive months, the Obama campaign is in no position to plan a victory party. For one thing, that top-line unemployment number is unlikely to keep dropping through the November election. Instead, as more unemployed Americans who had abandoned their job searches start looking for work again—and thus start appearing in the labour force survey—it’s likely to creep back up. Pundits point out that no incumbent president since Franklin Roosevelt has won reelection with unemployment above 7.2%.
Meanwhile, Matt McDonald, a former John McCain adviser, and other observers think the U.S. needs to be adding jobs at a pace of more than 250,000 a month to get unemployment below 8% by election day—significantly more than the 200,000 added in December.
A sour economy dramatically worsens Obama’s chances; his polling numbers are down, for example, among voters without a college education who have been among the hardest hit by America’s economic struggles. Even the forecasting model developed by Yale University’s Ray Fair, which ignores unemployment in favour of indicators like inflation and GDP growth rate, currently gives Obama only a 50% chance of a second term.
Which is why Mitt Romney will likely become president in November. It’s scarcely conceivable that any of his rivals for the Republican nomination would make a viable contender in a general election. And a nation with its mind on its money will crave the buttoned-down competence of ultra-capitalist Romney, whom a November New York Times Magazine profile dubbed “exquisitely one-dimensional: All-Business Man, the world’s most boring superhero.” In that piece, Romney’s chief strategist Stuart Stevens said, “Our whole campaign is premised on the idea that this is a referendum on Obama, the economy is a disaster, and Obama is uniquely blocked from being able to talk about jobs.” Obama remains hugely popular in Canada, and his administration has made a real eff ort to cultivate the relationship with Ottawa. So what would a Romney presidency mean for us?
For one thing, Romney has made clear that he wouldn’t have hesitated to approve the construction of TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL, the pipeline that’s become a political football for the Obama administration. A Canada under pressure from abroad over the environmental impact of its oilsands projects would also find eager allies in a Romney White House more concerned with energy security than with placating the green lobby.
What’s more, says former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, “Republicans are free-traders, they’re not protectionists. Under a Republican president, you would not have a jobs bill proposed that has a ‘Buy American’ clause in it.” Though Wilkins expects the U.S.-Mexico border to tighten under a Republican administration, he doubts such restrictions would aff ect the 49th parallel. As for the old truism that Republican presidents get along better with Conservative prime ministers, Wilkins says the quality of the relationship ultimately has much more to do with the personalities of the two individuals. Obama and Prime Minster Stephen Harper seem to get along, but can’t you just picture Harper and Romney sitting around the piano, two suits eminently comfortable in their dullness?