Sharper focus on jobs issues needed

We know that this is a jobless economic recovery. So why is this a jobless campaign cycle, too? Why aren’t more candidates and campaigners talking about jobs, jobs, jobs? Yes, I know that most every candidate says something about the economy in his or her pat stump speeches, but too often it’s just too little.

We’re no longer in the flat issue agenda that plagued us over the past decade. Nope, look at any polling list of the “most important issues or problems” facing America today and jobs are at the top of the chart.

Nothing else really comes close. Not immigration. Not healthcare. Not national security. Not taxes. Not the size and scope of government. Not the environment. Yet candidates, on average, are as likely to talk about one of these second- or third-tier issues as they are to address jobs. Why?

The president and the Democrats are loath to speak of jobs because, well, they aren’t producing the jobs they promised. It’s their jobless recovery. They own it. So to gin up more angst or hope about the need for jobs is raising an awkward topic. I get it. But why are Republicans not beating the jobs drum louder? Once upon a time, Republicans were the party of job creation, the party of commerce, but no more, it seems.

There are several potential explanations that neither party is opportunistically grasping the jobs issue and making it its own. First, I fear, is that most in government and politics are not personally experiencing unemployment. Inside the Beltway, things are doing fine. Unemployment seems like a distant and abstract matter. The government keeps cutting those fat payroll checks and offering terrific employee benefits. If we exiled everyone in the District to Detroit for two years, and the economy didn’t pick up, I bet we’d see a clearer and sharper focus on the jobs message in 2012 than we’re getting today.

Another, related reason jobs get ignored is that for most in Washington, job creation too often means “government jobs,” and we all know and understand that government can’t afford any more stimulus spending. So where are the ideas and passion for creating the conditions in which the private sector can create the jobs we need? The circumstance longs for a new Jack Kemp who can romance the ideas of “hope, growth and opportunity.” We need more candidates focused on eliminating red tape and regulations that unnecessarily burden government. Campaigners need to find ways to eliminate the roadblocks to access to capital. Someone needs to be creative in the pursuit of channeling private investment into job creation.

Politicians, even Republicans, may also be standoffish about jobs because it seemingly serves the business sector, and with all the bad actors in business — from Goldman Sachs to BP — Lord knows we don’t want to look like we are helping that bunch. This is one of the biggest miscalculations politicians make. Obama has made this error with BP. Instead of narrowly focusing on addressing that one company, he’s trying to scapegoat an entire industry, shutting down all offshore drilling. This isn’t going to be good for jobs, and the public will notice.

I find that the public is more open than ever to projects and industries that once were suspect. Take “real estate developers.” Voters are just not as lathered up as they once were to block new projects. Why?

Because they know that real estate projects create jobs that we desperately need now. I have mentioned in this space the growing openness to new nuclear power plant construction, something that people once ran from. Job creation is an explanation.

The public knows we need new jobs. Will the politicians offer hope and answers? Those who do will win.

David Hill has been a Republican pollster since 1984. This cycle he is polling for gubernatorial campaigns in four states.