It’s the economy stupid.” At first, it was merely a simple phrase heard around the world but later, as some would argue, it became the bombshell mantra that led Bill Clinton to victory. During this election year, it may still be the economy that becomes the deciding factor between who wins or loses the keys to the White House. However, this year, the platitude “Third Time is the Charm” may help pave the way to victory for President Bush, but only if we forget how poorly Bush has fared and will continue to fair in safeguarding a strong and competitive economy.

Why might “Third Time is the Charm” be the new Bush mantra? Because on Tuesday, acknowledging signs of economic improvement, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates (to 1.75 percent) for the third time this year with only a month and half left until the presidential election. Economists for leading financial firms such as Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo argue that the decision indicates that Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve believe that the economy is doing well and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration was quick to utilize this decision to tout itself as actually having sound economic policies especially when, as seen on the Bush-Cheney Web site, they take great pride in other recent news that suggest “Household Wealth Hits Record Highs” and “Increased Earnings for Workers.”

Thus, for the many Americans who may cast their votes based on the state of the economy, this third decision to increase rates may persuade them that Bush will do a better job handling the economy after all. Surely, if the Federal Reserve, leading economists and the administration are optimistic about the future economy, then why should we not be as well?

The need to be competitive in a growing global economy and Bush’s failure to safeguard this necessity should be a primary reason why Americans should not carry the administration’s optimism with them to the polls in November. The American public must not cast its vote based on headlines and hype. These recent economic indicators should not overshadow the failed policies that the administration has put forth that have undermined the United States’ ability to compete on a global scale, especially with the possibility of a counterweight emerging from Europe or China. The ability to compete with other world powers should be an important factor in judging the strength of our economy, and we should do what we can to ensure that we maintain every advantage and edge in the global economy.

To do so depends on finding alternative sources of energy. Our economy can only benefit from loosening the ties that bind us to foreign oil, and particularly the oil of the Middle East, since it would no longer be weighed down by the uncertain rise and fall of oil prices. Unfortunately, Bush, in his last four years in office, has failed to make any grand gestures that would suggest he is truly interested in finding alternative sources of energy. But perhaps when energy giants are members of your voting bloc and energy executives strongly influence U.S. energy policies, the need to find alternative energy sources becomes irrelevant.

Moreover, and probably most importantly, a competitive economy depends on educating and providing our children with the skills and intellect they need to deal with the complex issues of our world. Our growing service economy necessitates a skilled and educated workforce, and yet recent data have showed that American education is falling behind that of European countries. It seems that if Bush were truly concerned with ensuring that the United States has a competitive economy, he would have actually made more effort to increase the quality of education — especially in math and science, so important in a technological world — fund his own educational policies, and work to reduce higher education fees.

Finally, in order to be able to maintain a skilled and educated workforce that will continue to be the driving engine for our competitive economy, the workforce must be a healthy one. Yet, Bush has remained unresponsive when it comes to securing adequate health care for millions of Americans, and his future proposals for health care do not appear to be promising either. Our country will not have the healthy society it needs to sustain an acceptable level of productivity that will keep us truly competitive if Bush insists on raising premiums that will increase the cost of health care or neglects to alleviate the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Therefore, in the end, the future prospects of a growing economy should be judged, not just on the indicators that economists and investors analyze so closely or on optimistic, misleading headlines, but also on other domestic policies that are intrinsically linked to our ability to sustain a competitive economy in this age of increased globalization. We need a leader that understands that a strong economy rests on being competitive, and that a competitive edge can only come from sound domestic policies.

Alicia Washington is a senior in Trumbull College. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.