It's the Jobs, Stupid

Republicans took the House, but are misreading their mandate. Paul Begala on what the GOP needs to do to show they're serious—and why Democrats have cause for hope in 2012.

It's jobs, stupid. That's the lesson I take from this election. For all the bloviating that Americans hated Speaker Pelosi, or opposed Obamacare, or wanted to shrink the federal government, this election was about jobs. If the unemployment rate had been 4 percent instead of 9.6 percent (and by the broader U6 measure, 17 percent), Obamacare would be beloved. If we were creating jobs by the hundreds of thousands there would be no Tea Party. If the economy were humming like it was under President Clinton, no one would be wringing their hands about President Obama's inability to emote.

Election Reactions from Beast writersRepublicans don't read the results the same way. Instead of talking about jobs, they seem focused on cutting spending. Okay. Let's put them to the test. Fiscal responsibility, like charity, begins at home. Tell us which construction project in your district you're going to cancel; which bridge in your hometown you're going to oppose; what military base in your state you want to close. Don't just blather about "waste, fraud and abuse," tell us which teachers in your kids' school you want to lay off; call for closing the police station and firehouse nearest to your home. And if newly-elected Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, they can start by refusing to accept the generous government-guaranteed health care which members of Congress receive.

If the Democrats focus on jobs and Republicans tie themselves in knots pretending to be for spending cuts, Election Night 2012 will be very different than 2010.

Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.