If I were a Republican, I’d be feeling pretty optimistic about the congressional elections next year. They can’t break the Democratic majority, but have a very good chance to pick up enough seats to be able to wield more solid leverage.

In just a few months, or even before that, voters are going to start seeing national political ads shift from health care to jobs. Nine point eight percent unemployment is a depressing statistic no matter what your economic philosophy is. Even the White House admits that the number is going to keep going up before it gets any better.

It’s a great strategy to focus on jobs. Health care is complicated and Afghanistan is on the other side of the world. Getting and keeping a job is going to be foremost in a voter’s mind.
By fostering a negative perception of the government’s economic efforts, they want to pick up independent voters in some key contested districts and states, and narrow the Democratic lead. The best way to do that is focus their attacks on unemployment, making this weakness the most important domestic issue of the election.

As is usual in American politics, the fact that this is an excellent strategy for winning elections has nothing to do with its flawed logic. Unemployment is a bad thing, of course, and not just because it means that potential workers aren’t making anything. Former workers’ skills deteriorate in the time that they’re looking for work. The flawed logic is in the blame game that Republicans are keen on playing.

They point to the $787 billion stimulus package, which Democrats said would keep unemployment under 8 percent. Though the government was wrong on the figure, they were right on the principle. Just having the stimulus sends signals to businesses that they’re committed to making the economic climate better, giving them an incentive to hire and expand. Most of the money hasn’t even been spent yet. The stimulus is designed to create jobs in a few months, rather than immediately. This makes it more likely those jobs won’t be artificial and disappear once the stimulus money runs out by coinciding with the recovery that most economists expect to take place next year.

The decline itself was overseen by President Bush, with the heaviest crash taking place before Obama was even elected. This resulted in almost all the job losses, rather than anything the new Congress and president have done. It’s very difficult to see what Republicans would do differently if they were in power.

Regardless, I’d still want my party to take advantage of the unemployment rate, which will stay high into next year, to pick up seats. Economic reality should never get in the way of political profit.