Opinion: Unemployment Report Means Romney's New Problem Number is the 8%

The backdrop of a Romney campaign rally in Denver on October 1, 2012.

The newest number has entered this year's election arithmetic: the 8 percent. That's the unemployment level that has been plaguing the Obama Administration -- and the mark below which the jobless rate just fell for the first time in Obama's presidency.

Many numbers were tossed around in Wednesday's math-heavy debate. Romney repeated the false claim that Obama is cutting $716 billion from Medicare. Obama kept hitting on the $5 trillion that Romney would cut in taxes to the wealthiest Americans. To some, Romney's apparent numeracy was a sign of his competence and confidence.

But 8 percent may prove harder for Romney to handle. It's one indicator that the central tenet of his campaign -- that Obama's not on the right direction -- is wrong.

It would be ironic if this number upends him in a way no other number could. His role as poster-boy for the 1 percent has made him seem like a defender of the super-rich, out of touch with working Americans. The energy of the 99 percent pushed the debate to focus on wealth disparity, an area where Romney was weaker. His indictment of the 47 percent showed what a limited view of America he has. Even as he back-pedaled from it, his running-mate introduce the 30 percent who he claims don't pursue the American Dream.

Yet -- to the dismay of many Americans -- not of these percents even made it into the math-wars on display on Wednesday. Obama may have seen his avoidance of these charged numbers as a way of coming off presidential and less aggressive. Critics saw it as a foolish choice and missed opportunity.

So Mr. 47 percent dodged a bullet just to be hit by a real October surprise: a positive jobs report.

Now, the truth is it's not enough. Unemployment under 8 percent isn't a lofty enough goal for the ambitions of America. And it doesn't account the many Americans who are accepting part-time jobs because they can't find full-time employment, or the many more who have dropped out of the workforce entirely out of frustration.

This number shouldn't let the GOP off the hook for blocking the American Jobs Act, or absolve Democrats who didn't fight hard enough.

Only an absurdly framed national debate would claim "just under 8 percent!" a boast-worth slogan. Then again, it's that same absurdly framed national debate who would call someone a debate-winner by virtue of dutifully repeated lies.

No Americans should be satisfied with this progress, but we can feel OK that it will change the news cycle from talking about the good and bad jobs done in a debate, to a debate about good and bad jobs plans. And maybe it will get Americans asking, thinking, learning and talking about the candidates' real economic plans in a way the debate failed to do.