Politically speaking, there couldn’t be a starker contrast between two men than Martin O’Malley (D-MD) and Bob McDonnell (R-VA). These two men rarely see eye to eye on the issues, and appear in public together even more rarely. Sunday’s episode of “Meet the Press” on MSNBC, in which David Gregory interviewed both Governors, was a rare event in American politics. The two discussed the economy, the 2012 election, abortion and the possibility of a Vice Presidential bid for McDonnell. As with any interview, however, there were some moments where the rhetoric got in the way of the facts.
The interview began with David Gregory breaking the news about an American servicemember who allegedly went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan, killing at least a dozen Afghan civilians. Both Governors expressed their regret for the incident, as well as for the negative way in which it will characterize the actions of the entire US Armed Forces. The conversation quickly turned back to domestic matters, though, as Gregory abruptly segued to the election.
Asking Governor O’Malley about the President’s reelection prospects, Gregory cited the improving job numbers since 2009 and 2010, “10% then, 8.3% now… Is he now the favorite, given the optimism about the economy?” O’Malley – without actually answering the question – said that 24 consecutive months of job growth and the success of the auto bailouts in his case that the economy is, indeed improving. Turning to McDonnell, Gregory asked if the recovery would dim the election prospects of Mitt Romney, whom McDonnell has endorsed. McDonnell predictably downplayed the recovery, pointing out that there are 864,000 fewer people employed in the private sector than at the start of 2009 and emphasizing that the unemployment and national debt remain high. O’Malley then stopped mincing words, stating that both Obama and Romney have records with regard to job creation, and that Obama’s is clearly stronger. With such ambivalent statements coming from both parties, it helps to have an eye on the actual numbers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Americans employed in January of 2009 – when Obama took office – was 140,436,000. This is a far cry from the 146,867,000 that were employed just six months previous, meaning that the labor market was shedding an average of a million jobs per month in the months leading up to Obama’s inauguration. This contraction of the job market slowed gradually for the first 15 months of the Obama administration, until April of 2010, when it started to add jobs again. The overall upward trend has continued since then, but it does not conform the O’Malley’s claim of 24 straight months of job growth. A dip in June of 2011 means that this winning-streak is limited to just 8 consecutive months of growth. This, however, does not change the fact that the labor force is now slightly stronger than when Obama took office, with 140,684,000 Americans employed at the end of last month. The nonpartisan Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index shows that this trend will not only continue, but will increase in speed in the coming months.
After the discussion on the economy, Gregory steered the conversation to women’s reproductive rights, pressing McDonnell for an explanation on his support of a Virginia bill requiring women to receive a transvaginal ultrasound prior to getting an abortion. “That was one bill out of a thousand that we passed,” said McDonnell, “that was (sic) all focused on jobs and economic development and education.” When asked if it was wrong to support that mandate, McDonnell said “No, I never said that… What we said was that we support the concept of an ultrasound, and through the committe process I realized that there were some other things in the bill that needed to be amended.” While it is true that McDonnell never explicitly stated support for a transvaginal ultrasound, he was the original author of an identical, failed bill nearly a decade ago. The imprecise language of that bill, mandating the informational results of the ultrasound rather than the method itself, could only have been fulfilled in the majority of cases by a transvaginal procedure. It is important to note, however, that McDonnell did not sign the original version of the bill when it reached his desk, sending it back to the General Assembly for an amendment which explicitly removed the transvaginal requirement – albeit after a media firestorm over the requirement. More information about this bill can be found here.
O’Malley returned to the economy by saying that cultural issues such as abortion, contraception and labor unions serve as wedges to cloud out the central issue of this election, which is the economy. After O’Malley contrasted the job creation rates of Virginia and Maryland, Gregory asked “Do you think your counterpart here in Virginia would be a good running-mate for Romney, or would you cast him as an extremist?”
Stopping short of either option, O’Malley once again contrasted his state’s job creation rate to that of Virginia, but then compared the job creation rates of Virginia and Massachusetts, stating that “Governor McDonnell would be a better job creator [than Romney.]”
For his part, McDonnell insisted that he has no Presidential hopes. “I’ve got the job held by Jefferson and Henry. I love being Governor of Virginia, but I do want a Republican President who will get us out of this malaise.”