If the theme of last week’s Republican National Convention was the manipulative sloganeering of “We Build It,” then the theme of this week’s Democratic National Convention has been “We’re Manufacturing It”—and “We’re Going to Manufacture a Whole Lot More.”
That’s a distinct message, not just from Mitt Romney’s empty rhetoric but from the empty rhetoric of most economic appeals in most elections.
In a country that would have a middle class, the point at which a candidate gets serious about job creation is the point at which he or she gets specific about manufacturing renewal and industrial policy. As the Alliance for American Manufacturing keeps reminding us, “an innovative and growing manufacturing base is vital to America’s economic and national security, as well as to providing good jobs for future generations.”
To be heard by voters, a candidate must move past wide-angle claims about renewing the economy or getting out of its way, and toward a specific commitment to making things.
Barack Obama did some of that Thursday night, as part of an address carefully constructed to contrast his re-election candidacy with that of his Republican challenger. The speech touched the important themes of that re-election campaign. But the critical section, as will come as no surprise, was the one where Obama made the case for himself as a job creator. That might just make him a two-term president—if he was listening not just to his speech but to the others delivered on the final night of the Democratic National Convention that renominated him.
Obama made a big promise, and it was the right one.
At a convention where he needed to explain what he would do with a second term, Obama pledged to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs by 2016 and to double exports by 2014.
“After a decade of decline, this country created over half-a-million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years,” Obama declared, as he began to outline his second-term agenda. “And now you have a choice: we can give more tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, or we can start rewarding companies that open new plants and train new workers and create new jobs here, in the United States of America. We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years. You can make that happen. You can choose that future.”
Focusing on manufacturing jobs is smart politics in 2012, when a handful of what used to be referred to as “industrial states”—Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, yes, but also states such as Colorado and North Carolina—will play a critical role in deciding the race between Obama and Mitt Romney.
Romney’s 2009 argument that America should “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” was an essential theme of this week’s Democratic convention, as was the story of the renewal that followed upon the Obama administration’s investment in an ailing auto industry.