Mitt Romney and “Static” Numbers

Mitt Romney faces a dilemma of timing. Two years ago, with the economy continuing to shed jobs, simple attacks on President Obama’s economic plan could convince a voter to support “Not Obama” as President. But as the economy steadily improves from the depths of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the electorate needs a reason to deviate from an upward path.

Uh oh. This doesn't look so good for you Mittens

This is the dilemma, because Mitt Romney has very little to offer in terms of concrete solutions that would improve the state of the economy any faster than the Obama administration. Worse, the Romney economic team continues to “evolve” his policy, meaning any focus on individual details opens the door to further charges of flip-flopping.

This is why Romney avoids arguing that the economic recovery is “too slow” but aggressively denies all indications that the economy has improved. This requires some rhetorical backflips, given the overwhelming number of “facts” that frustrate the claim.

Today, Mitt Romney latched onto the message, while pandering to a gathering of small business owners, that he may well turn into a consistent theme in the coming months.

Democrats say they like a strong economy. They just don’t like business very much and you see the economy is made up of nothing but business and so we have to encourage entrepreneurs. I will make America a great place for entrepreneurs again, for small business, for women-owned business, for men-owned business.

With the stock market surging and jobs being added every month, the idea that the Obama administration has fostered a hostile atmosphere for businesses is a tough sell, but by focusing on small business, Romney is talking about businesses that whose profits and finances aren’t broadcast on TV. The average voter doesn’t really know if small businesses are doing well or not. Additionally, Romney can invoke a sympathetic image of “mom and pop” business owners rather than the Wall Street executives most commonly associated with business leaders.

But here’s the real key to this theme for Romney’s campaign: whenever Mitt Romney talks about small business, he cites a somewhat dubious statistic that America has lost 100,000 business startups under the Obama administration. It is a nice, round number and paints a grim view of America’s economic outlook.

All the “100,000” number indicates is that fewer businesses were created during the recession. This is not particularly controversial. Obama did not cause the shortage of businesses in the precise manner that he did not cause the recession that stifled economic expansion. In fact, the number of business startups have grown since 2010, an indication that the Obama administration is doing a good job on this count.

The brilliance of this rhetorical jiu-jitsu is that the number of startups created is a “static” number. Dynamic numbers like GDP growth show a positive trend for the President. But the fact that the economy is improving cannot replace the fact that from 2008-2009 the number of startups fell. It makes Obama responsible for something immutable.

Keep an eye out for more static numbers coming from Romney that obscure progress and pin Obama to the bottom of the economic crisis that he inherited on inauguration.

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