Byron York
Amid all the accusations and counteraccusations over Medicare, the Ryan budget and whether Mitt Romney is a felon, a tax cheat or a killer, it sometimes seems the political world has forgotten that the unemployment rate is 8.3 percent. If you add in all the people who want to work but have given up looking, plus those who are forced to take a part-time job when they need full-time work, the figure is 15 percent.

It's an awful, slow-motion tragedy touching tens of millions of Americans, especially when you add all the family members and dependents who are also affected. And yet recently a journalist with good connections in President Obama's re-election effort, Mark Halperin, reported that "many Democratic sharpies now think if unemployment doesn't go above 9 percent, Romney is done and dusted."

Nine percent? Perhaps that's just bluster on the part of worried Democrats. But the fact that any politicos on the president's side would even try to sell such spin indicates the degree to which Republicans have so far failed to hold Obama fully accountable for the nation's devastating jobless rate.

Everyone knows Romney is a rich man who doesn't have to worry about a job. But he sees the terrible effects of unemployment all the time. For a while, he held off-the-record meetings with jobless and struggling workers wherever he traveled. Now, after events, he sometimes tells aides what people told him as he greeted them on the rope line. There was the miner in Ohio who just wanted Romney to protect his job. The others who came up with tears in their eyes, telling him they hope he can make things better. The ones who tell him they have a job but at such low pay that they have to take on more work.

It's an ongoing calamity, but one from which the political conversation is easily distracted. For example, at a Romney press conference in South Carolina recently, reporters asked one question about the tone of the presidential race, three questions about Medicare, one question about running mate Paul Ryan's background and one question about Romney's tax returns. There were no questions about unemployment.

A couple of hours later, some top Obama officials held a press conference call, and the questions focused on Romney's taxes and Medicare. There were none about unemployment.

Voters are not so easily sidetracked. In its August poll asking Americans what they think is the most important problem facing the country, Gallup found 54 percent said jobs and the economy. A grand total of 7 percent named the federal deficit.


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner