By Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON — Democrats, if you want to win in the fall, take some advice from Pharrell Williams: “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”
The Mountie-hat-wearing pop singer’s infectious “Happy” should be the Democratic Party’s theme song for the midterm election. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, things are definitely looking up. Democrats ought to be clicking their heels and spreading the good news.
Friday’s announcement that unemployment fell to 6.3 percent was huge. The fact that the economy added 288,000 jobs in April — despite continued bad weather early in the month in parts of the country — suggests that the recovery has greater momentum than pessimists had feared. Economists were expecting decent numbers. These are great.
The stock market, meanwhile, is flirting with an all-time high. The Dow has risen about 10 percent over the past year; the S&P 500, more than 16 percent; the Nasdaq, about 22 percent. During President Obama’s term in office, the Dow has more than doubled. If he were a socialist, as his harshest critics claim, he’d be a truly lousy one.
The numbers prove that Obama is, in fact, a skillful capitalist who guided the economy out of its worst slump since the Great Depression. He accomplished this feat despite being saddled with a Republican opposition in Congress that reflexively opposes his every initiative — even those based on policies the GOP had supported in the past.
Speaking of which, the Affordable Care Act — which is based, you’ll recall, on a framework developed in Republican think tanks — is clearly a success and may soon be seen as a triumph. More than 8 million people have signed up for insurance through the federal and state exchanges; Obama’s benchmark had been 7 million. Enough of these enrollees are young and healthy to ensure the program’s continued viability.
The disasters predicted by the Republican Party have not come true. Critics have stopped talking about a hypothetical “death spiral” in which the health insurance reforms collapse of their own weight, since it is now clear that nothing of the sort will happen. Early indications are that any increase in premiums for next year will be modest. Republicans will keep attacking Obamacare because it fires up the base, but the program is here to stay.
Democrats now have a positive story they can tell in their campaign ads and speeches: “We promised you that these were the right policies to get the economy on track and reform health care. We said it would take time to see results and asked for patience. You gave us your trust and now we’re seeing the benefits. This is just the beginning. Give us a mandate to keep moving forward on an agenda that is working.”
This is what Democrats are saying, more or less. But would it hurt to show a little enthusiasm?
Obama can be excused for his brief and relatively low-key reaction to the jobs numbers Friday. He spoke in the White House Rose Garden alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he had just met, and the situation in Ukraine was clearly weighing on both leaders’ minds.
“The grit and determination of the American people are moving us forward,” Obama said, “but we have to keep a relentless focus on job creation and creating more opportunities for working families.”
I propose that Democrats ban the word “but” until after the election.
Republicans are giving “but” a workout. Unemployment may be down to 6.3 percent, they say, but too many people are leaving the workforce. The jobs numbers for April may look good, but we don’t know if this rate of growth can be sustained. Enrollment numbers for the Affordable Care Act may be impressive, but have all those people actually paid their premiums?
These are not honest caveats. Republican claims about enrollees not paying their insurance premiums, for example, are based on a survey taken before many of those premiums were even due. The GOP wants to foster the notion that nothing is going well with Democrats in charge of the White House and the Senate — and that it’s time for a change.
When Democrats sound like the old “Saturday Night Live” character Debbie Downer — emphasizing what’s still ailing about the economy, promising to “fix what’s broken” in Obamacare — they reinforce the Republicans’ message rather than refute it.
Listen up, Democrats. You fixed the economy. You expanded access to health care. Oh, and you ended two wars.
Show a little happiness. It’s contagious.
Eugene Robinson is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is email@example.com.