Ezra KleinEzra Klein has an interesting article about the jobs plans of Obama and Romney. But as usual, he is maddeningly "even handed" in a case that is not even.

He claims that each have four main items. First, he gives Romney's:
  1. Expand domestic energy production
  2. Trade agreements with Latin America
  3. Trade policies with China
  4. Cut corporate taxes
Klein points out that all of these are long term plans that will not help the economy anytime soon. But he claims they are all good ideas. They aren't. Expanding energy production is a bad idea that will create very few jobs; NAFTA has not worked out as advertised (except for the rich) so why would we think it would be great to expand it (most Washington columnists have a religious faith in "free trade"); and cutting the corporate tax rate is going to do nothing for an economy that lacks demand, but it will increase inequality.

Working out the problems with China is a big deal. China keeps its currency value set too low and as a result, American products are unfairly expensive when sold in China. The Obama administration has gone head to head with China many times over the last three and a half years. But the problems remain. Romney has never explained what he's going to do that is so different. Instead, he complains that Obama has been soft. Romney's swagger on this issue—along with his total lack of backbone when standing up to his own party—inspires absolutely no confidence.

So I don't understand where Klein is coming from when he claims that these are all good ideas. I think he's just trying to look Serious. This is especially true when you look at Obama's four items:
  1. Increase infrastructure investment
  2. Hire more state and local workers
  3. Double payroll tax cut
  4. Add tax cuts for businesses that hire
These are all good ideas, as Klein says. And Klein grants that the first two items would help the economy right away. But he is unwilling to come right out and say what his own analysis shows: Romney's jobs program is a sham and Obama's is not. Klein also doesn't mention that Romney's items (except China) are all traditional Republican wishes that they want regardless of what's happening in the economy. So Romney isn't even presenting a jobs plan but rather just an "economic" plan by the Republican playbook.

Klein goes on to look at how the two plans deal with the budget deficit. He points out that Obama says explicitly how he will pay for his plan and that Romney hasn't. I don't particularly care about the deficit right now, but Klein as the Very Serious Commentator he is, cares very much. And yet, he presents the two plans—Obama pays for his and Romney says some day he'll explain how he will pay for his—as equivalent. Astounding.

The article finishes off discussing how the two plans are compatible. This causes Klein to see the two budgets as indicative of the ideologies of the two candidates. He says, "Obama has a plan for creating jobs now." That is the definition of a jobs plan. He then says, "Romney has a plan for changing the regulatory, budgetary and tax environment in which jobs are created later." While this may be true, the creation of jobs is not the primary purpose of his plan. What's more, everything he says about Romney's plan can also be said about Obama's.

I've seen this time and again over the years. Serious Political Watchers are rarely willing to call out Republicans on the ridiculousness of their proposals. And this only encourages more ridiculous proposals. Romney's jobs plan should not be treated as a serious proposal. If Obama's plan was primarily to provide welfare to the poor (which would do more to create jobs than Romney's plan), Klein would not treat it as a serious proposal. But when Romney's plan is primarily a give away to the rich, Klein considers it Very Serious, but "long term."

Update (8 July 2012 5:21 pm)

Crooks and Liars linked to this post this morning in Mike's Blog Round Up. I was shocked, but pleased. Peter G, a commenter over there wrote, "Frankly Curious ably demonstrates [w]hy Ezra Klein is about ten times as smart as he is." I concede the point! The boy is scary smart. Unfortunately, he is also often wrong.