Today’s jobs report is all good news for the country, and bad news for Republicans who are hoping that a failing economy is all they need in order to unseat President Obama. The economy added 243,000 jobs in January, 257,000 in the private sector, driving the unemployment rate down to a three-year low of 8.3 percent from 8.5 percent in December and 9.1 percent in August. Previous job-creation estimates for November and December were revised upwards by 60,000. Add that average hourly earnings ticked up, and don’t be surprised at more than a little chortling from the White House.

Happy days, however, might not be here again: Almost 24 million Americans continue to look for full-time work, and over 5 million have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. But the trend is in the right direction, and if it continues, the president will surely claim credit, and demand more stimulus and whatever else he can tie to the improvement in the jobs market.

I have long felt that Republican strategists who thought they could ride into the White House on the backs of the unemployed were in for a shock. The real issue is not this or that uptick or downtick in some economic indicator. It is the president’s vision of where he wants to take the country, a vision now wrapped in talk of a long-term, sustainable economy to replace the current model that has produced a financial crisis, a recession, rising inequality—you know the rest.

To counter this vision we have Republican attacks on reforms of the financial services sector, a refusal to countenance any increase in any taxes, a grudging attitude towards help for the unemployed, and calls for protectionism that will alienate farm belt voters heavily dependent on exports.

Alone among contenders for the nomination, Newt Gingrich has a coherent view of a response to the president. But he also has what has come to be called “baggage,” which includes personal traits that many voters find off-putting. If Mitt Romney is not only to win the nomination, but compete effectively with the president, who himself cannot be accused of having a lack of a vision of what a “transformed” America should look like, he had better do more than repeat his defense of capitalism and free markets, and put some flesh on those very bare bones.

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