Friday, October 22, 2010

Election Season Leads to Short Term Memory Loss

Bush, Hastert, Frist, DeLay,

Do these names sound familiar? They should. These are the last names of four of the most powerful political leaders in US government during the last decade. Yet, during this campaign season when discussions arise on the subjects of the national debt, the unemployment rate, the crisis in education, health care or the general state of politics in America, their names and their tenure are mysteriously forgotten. In fact, if you listen to some people tell it, all of the problems in this nation began in January of 2009.

Now I can understand that not every candidate can remember all of the amendments to the US Constitution. After all, most of the amendments were written a very long time ago. But you would lthink that candidates would possess a recall of the last ten years. So hopefully I can jog a few memories by asking that you keep the following names, titles and dates in mind. The reason will soon become very clear.
  • George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, (January 2001 to January 2009).
  • John Dennis "Denny" Hastert , Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from 1987 to 2007 and served as Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007.
  • Dr. William Harrison "Bill" Frist, Sr., served two terms as a Republican United States Senator representing Tennessee and later served as the Republican Majority Leader from 2003 until his retirement in 2007
  • Thomas Dale "Tom" DeLay, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives who represented Texas's 22nd congressional district from 1984 until 2006. He was Republican Party (GOP) House Majority Leader from 2003–2005, when his legal problems forced him to step down.

As you can see the dates are not so very long ago. Now we are in the heart of midterm election season 2010.

In his Oct. 21st column,
A National Election, Like It or Not, E.J. Dionne suggests that Democrats running for election need the "firewall of a simple, coherent national argument" in order combat the relentless talking points of their GOP and Tea Party opponents. He begins his column by writing:
"Kevin DeWine, the affable chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio, has a transparent board behind his desk at state headquarters where he scribbles reminders to himself. A permanent fixture is this list of words: “Spending, taxes, jobs, economy, deficit, debt.”

DeWine says he keeps the issues inventory as a reminder to all of his party’s candidates. “If they are not talking about these things,” he says, “they are off-message.”

And his candidates seem to listen. Republican Steve Stivers is in a rematch with Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, one of those endangered-but-still-gutsy Democrats who won’t back down from her support for the new health care law, financial reform or the stimulus. Among the first words out of Stivers’ mouth when I chatted with him over the phone were “the debt and jobs,” followed quickly by “unemployment” and “big spending.”

Thus the key question as the 2010 campaign enters its final days: Is there anything Democrats can do to shake the GOP off its relentlessly effective focus on a handful of themes? These seem to resonate with voters without actually solving any problems. So far, the Republicans have not even been forced to explain how their promises add up.

Between now and Nov. 2, will they get away with offering tax cuts and a reduction in the deficit without specifying what spending they would eliminate or trim?

In the meantime, Democrats have left loyalists such as Kilroy (Mary Jo Kilroy D-OH), who deserve better, without the support of a driving national message. There is no Democratic counterpart to Kevin DeWine’s handy list."

In response to Mr. Dionne's question, there is nothing that the Democrats can or should do to shake the GOP's focus off their themes. Quite the opposite. Democrats should drive those themes home by adding a good dose of reality. The Democrats' simple, coherent, national argument should be that it takes a while to clean up a mess that was a long time in the creation.

In fact, every Democrat should have the following scribbled on the white boards in their offices:

"Bush + Hastert + Frist + DeLay = spending, tax cuts for the wealthy, outsourced jobs, a failing economy, increased deficit, deregulation which lead to the subprime housing crisis, and debt, debt and more debt."

Here are the facts reported by the Economic Policy Institute in January 2005:

"A number of observers seem to suggest that the economy is doing very well and that people mistakenly believe that the economy is on the wrong track. The facts are that trends in almost every indicator of the aggregate 'macro' economy—GDP growth, investment, payroll employment, personal income—have been inferior in this business cycle and recovery when measured against earlier comparable periods (see The boom that wasn't).

Moreover, the wages of workers (inflation-adjusted) fell in 2005 from 2004 levels and have been falling for several years (see Economy up, wages down). For instance, the wage (inflation-adjusted) of the median worker fell 1.3% in 2005. Given declining wages it is not surprising that the typical (median) household income fell for five years in a row through 2004 (2005 income data are not yet available), poverty has risen, and families have gone deeper into debt. Furthermore, health care costs are taking a bigger bite out of family incomes (see What's wrong with the economy?). The bottom line is that people do not feel good about trends in the economy because the things that matter most to them—wages, jobs, family income—have not been making them better off.

The administration claims that its tax cuts have led to jobs and growth.

Yet, as we have shown, GDP, investment and other trends do not support this claim. A simpler way of showing the failure of the tax cuts to deliver jobs is to note that private sector jobs, excluding those generated by military or other government spending, have not increased since early 2001 (see Sluggish private job growth indicates failure of tax cuts). If private sector jobs have not been created in significant numbers, how can one say that the tax cuts have worked?

There has also been some bragging about recent job creation and the current 'low' unemployment rate. However, (see Why people are so dissatisfied with today's economy), unemployment remains higher than the 4.0% in 2000 and today's unemployment is artificially low because of a major withdrawal from the labor force. Job creation in this recovery lags behind every other recovery, and the only wage growth in this decade was based on the momentum from the 1990s recovery. That wage growth petered out as the recession took hold and hasn't resumed more than four years into the recovery.

Last, the administration claims that poor wage growth is the result of higher health care costs squeezing wages. Actually, what has squeezed wages is the huge boost in profits in recent years. Rising health care costs cannot explain any of the following: the falling real wages of low-wage workers (1.9% down in 2005) who generally do not have employer-provided health insurance (47% of the entire workforce does not); the lower compensation growth (wages and health and other benefits) in 2005 than in 2004; or the slowdown in wage growth in 2005 even though health costs also rose more slowly relative to earlier years (see The wage squeeze and higher health care costs).

These are the facts. Yet recent GOP and Tea Party campaign ads would have you believe that the world was simply rosey until the Democrats took over.

Joe Sestak, Democratic Candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania is running a campaign ad which sums things up
perfectly. Democrats were left with a mess to clean up.

Of course, the Democrats are not totally without blame for their role in creating today's economic landscape. And Tea Party candidates can argue that they are Washington outsiders and not responsible for the mess. But here is the fundamental difference this campaign season.
  • There is a set of candidates who refuse to accept any responsibility for creating problems and offer no real solutions for fixing them
  • There is another set of candidates who are willing to accept responsibility for past mistakes and/or offer real and measurable solutions.
This is not a time for the electorate to suffer from short term memory loss.

Ask yourself, "If six years of Bush, Hastert, Frist, & Delay lead to so many of our current economic woes, where will we all be after years O'Donnell, Angle, Paul & Bachmann.

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