By Patricia H. Kushlis
Two weeks ago Friday, David Brooks – upon learning that the U.S. unemployment rate had fallen to 7.7% in February with over 200,000 new jobs added – told Judy Woodward on the Newshour that if one combined the good jobs news with the bad sequestration news the US was experiencing the norm: because the business cycle works independently from politics – and there is little, if anything, politicians can do to make the economy grow. Essentially, Brooks argued that the economic growth of this country was out of its politicians’ hands.
This is certainly not the first time I’ve heard the politics/economics disconnect argument, but I wonder about its’ accuracy. I also wonder if a Republican, not a Democrat, had been in the White House whether we would have heard Brooks’ pontification in such reverentially canonic terms.
The deep economic recession this country entered in 2007 as a result of poorly regulated banks and financial institutions that brought about the housing bubble, Lehman’s demise and the stock market collapse might well have been avoided had those pesky government regulations and regulators remained in place. Furthermore, had this country not been spending zillions of dollars (something like $8 trillion and counting) to fight two wars in the Middle East simultaneously – one entered into on spurious grounds and the other which could have been handled more smartly, efficiently and cheaply from the outset through far more limited and targeted action – the US government would have had an easier time applying Keynesian economic principles when (and if) the economic seas became rough because the Treasury would not have had to borrow so deeply or the Federal Reserve go through such contortions to keep the economy from total collapse.
British economist John Maynard Keynes, the right-wing’s bête noir and guru of the left, argued in the 1930s that governments needed to run deficits to keep the unemployed from starving or freezing to death so as to get through the rough patches when a country’s economy tanked. Whereas governments needed to recoup, regroup and run a budgetary surplus when the private sector economy hummed along on all four cylinders. Unfortunately, George W Bush, the most recent of America’s over-spenders, forgot – or never knew - the second part of Keynes’ prescription as he operated the US economy on a war footing for most of his two year term that ended in the “Great Recession” debacle.
The British government under the Coalition has also forgotten – or actually it has intentionally thumbed its nose at Keynes despite his British origins. Most recently the British economy took a hit from the debt rating agencies because, in essence, its austerity programs have failed. Why? Sometimes it’s necessary to pump prime to get an economy moving again so that a country can grow its way out of recession. It’s not all that counter-intuitive. Really.
Last week’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) convention foremost showed the disarray within the Republican Party. Yes the RNC post-elections report was critical of the party’s performance as it should have been but it, for the most part, blamed the messenger not the message. The problem is that both were at fault. None of the party’s candidates were up to the job. Most represented the ideological righteous right with its unwillingness to compromise principle for the sake of common sense – and their outsized weight in the House has been a major reason the US economy didn’t recover faster.
I agree, from a logistics standpoint, “Obama for America” ran rings around Romney’s campaign in getting out the vote and, as it turned out, raking in the money. The Obama ground organization was superb – not only did it handily reelect Obama but was also why normally swing and bellweather-state New Mexico swung to the Democrats voting in a second Democratic Senator and two out of three Democratic members of the House – partially due to the Obama coattails effect.
From a political standpoint, the Democrats had several advantages including control of the White House. But they also had a message – and a persona – that had greater appeal to the average voter outside, that is, of the old Confederacy - some of whose citizens are still fighting the Civil War – and in rural areas. One look at the party faithful who attended the two national conventions was enough to solidify in most minds that the Democratic Party did, indeed, look like the Rainbow Coalition that is today’s America whereas the Republican Party on-camera appeared as if its members were mostly white, male, old, rich, prejudiced and grouchy.
The fact that the Republicans in Congress have been so overwhelmed by Tea Party adherents that their bringing the economy to the brink over and over again over the debt ceiling, funding the government and whatever else they think they can do to be obstructionist in the name – supposedly – of austerity has turned out to backfire in the public eye. The problem is that gerrymandering put them there and because they control more state houses the districts are so configured the fight takes place in the Republican primaries not the general election.
Nevertheless, what is perhaps the most troubling to me is that I happen to be part of one of the groups the Republicans plan to target in 2016 if not before. But to be effective, the message, the party’s persona and its candidates would need to change dramatically from what they are today. That’s the choice. And by the way, please spare me the phone calls – especially the myriad of recorded ones that come my way most election seasons just as I’m cooking dinner and watching the evening news (not on Fox). Thanks.