WASHINGTON - Former governor Mitt Romney returns from his overseas trip this week to resume talking about a four-letter word that's been missing from Barack Obama's vocabulary: jobs.
His trip abroad hit some bumps in the road, but nothing of any consequence that's going to become an issue in a campaign that is totally fixated on Obama's recession-teetering economy.
While Romney was gone, the nation's barely breathing economic growth rate slowed to virtually comatose levels -- 1.5 percent in the second quarter with bleaker forecasts for the next three months in the 1 percent range.
Life in Obama's economy, now in its fourth year, is going to get worse. The Labor Department's report this Friday is expected to continue an unbroken string of puny monthly jobs numbers that will keep unemployment rates above 8 percent for the rest of this year and next.
While the nightly network news shows devote their airtime to the occasional irrelevant gaffe, voters were worried about more important things -- like finding jobs or holding on to the ones they have amid talk of impending layoffs and declining incomes.
This week, the Gallup Poll released a revealing survey of which issues concern Americans the most. Incredibly, none of them draw much attention on the nightly news or from Obama's campaign.
At the top of the voters' list of priorities: creating jobs, reducing corruption in the federal government, and four straight years of $1 trillion-plus budget deficits. Make that five years. It was announced this week that Obama's budget deficit will be over $1 trillion in 2013.
What are the issues at the bottom of the voters' priority list? Global climate change and raising taxes on wealthier Americans -- the two issues that the network news shows and Obama's campaign spend a lot of time talking about.
The American people must shake their heads in dismay at the often-nebulous network news menu that is dished up each night -- carefully avoiding any issues that might make Obama look bad.
Tens of millions of Americans are suffering from Obama's economy. The Gallup poll proved that Tuesday in a new nationwide survey that delivered another dose of bad news to the White House.
"Americans' confidence in the economy declined last week to -29, matching levels not seen since early January," Gallup reported. Republicans' and independents' confidence levels are at their lowest of 2012.
The economy is now clearly in a nosedive and all Mitt Romney has to do is convince a majority of Americans -- especially in the battleground states -- that he knows how to put America on a faster growth track to begin making jobs plentiful again at all income levels.
This means strengthening his campaign -- now in a dead heat with Obama -- in several strategic areas that remain weak. Among them:
-- Romney's career accomplishments still remain largely unknown. He needs to run TV ads that tell his story, which is a compelling one that is just right for our times.
He was governor of a state with a hostile, big-spending Democratic legislature that had driven itself deeply into debt when the dot-com bubble burst. He signed hundreds of vetoes to slow spending, balanced the budget, created a rainy day fund, and left office with a low unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
-- He hasn't effectively told the story of his job-creating business investment career, which gave him the skills that are needed now more than ever in an economy where jobs are severely in short supply.
Over 25 years as founder of Bain Capital, he helped build dozens of successful businesses that are household names today, but were tiny enterprises before he came to their rescue: Staples, Burger King, Burlington Coat Factory, Sports Authority, Toys "R" Us, Domino's Pizza and Sealy, to name a few.
This, in turn, helped create thousands of jobs across our country. He not only knows how to do this but understands the economics behind it: making venture capital plentiful again, setting policies that encourage investment in small and large businesses, and creating a climate of confidence for risk-takers and new business formation.
-- He needs to talk to the American people directly in TV ads where he looks into the camera and tells voters how he can pull us out of this recession and set the country on the road to full recovery.
Americans know a phony when they see one, and they can identify an untested, inexperienced politician who has never run so much as a lemonade stand, let alone a big job-creating behemoth.
-- Romney especially needs to devote more of his campaign ads to the task of simply explaining his agenda for growth and jobs. Chief among his plans:
1. Cleansing the federal income tax code of loopholes and corporate welfare, and permanently lowering the rates to boost investment, business expansion and confidence in the future.
2. Breaking down barriers to full energy independence by encouraging more drilling for oil and gas in areas the Obama administration has put off-limits, thus boosting oil supplies and lowering gas prices. Approving the Canadian oil pipeline to the Gulf will create 20,000 new jobs.
3. Reauthorize fast-track trade negotiating authority to open up new export markets for made-in-America goods and services around the globe.
4. Apply the brakes to the out-of-control spending that has driven us to the brink of insolvency, sapping the productive vitality of our economy and wasting hundreds of billions of tax dollars that need to be retained in the private sector for job-creating expansion.
Romney has spent his life in preparation for the huge leadership tasks that await him to unleash the full power and creative energies of a free economy. Now he needs to convince the American people he can lead us out of the jobless, poverty-stricken nightmare of the past four years.
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