Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Big Job Opening

The GOP candidates continue to attack Obama on unemployment, as if there's a magic wand any President can wave that would create a national wave of private-sector hiring in the short-term. It's the platform they have to shoot from as long as jobs are such a huge issue.

So here's a question I'd like to see them asked at the next debate: "If you become President and the national unemployment rate isn't reduced substantially in your first three years in office, will you step down at the end of your first term without running for re-election?"

None of them will answer it, instead veering off into talking points about how badly Obama has handled the economy, conveniently ignoring how we got here (thanks again, Wall Street fat cats and financial industry money-grubbers!). Of course, it's possible that by the time 2016 rolls around, the labor situation in the US could improve markedly. If it's on their watch, they'll take credit. If Obama's still in office, they'll claim he had nothing to do with it (just as they continue to deny Clinton's role in the economic boom during his presidency).

Republicans have fostered an image of being thrifty with your tax dollars while positioning Democrats as the ones who tax and spend and expand government. Democrats, for some reason, haven't defended their record. The truth is that the five most recent Democratic Presidents (Clinton, Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, and Truman) all reduced national debt as a share of GDP, while our public debt increased under the last four Republican Presidents (Bush 43, Bush 41, Reagan, and Ford), according to economist Mike Kimel.

There's an economic cycle at work here that does have a correlation to who's sitting in the Oval Office. When Ronald Reagan was President, he not only raised taxes 11 times (!), but the deficit exploded. That left his successor, George HW Bush, with a bloated budget he could not get under control, forcing him to finally break his campaign promise and raise taxes, too, which cost him his re-election. Then a Democrat, Bill Clinton (who won thanks to James Carville's "It's The Economy, Stupid!" campaign theme) came into office, balanced the budget, and built up a surplus for the federal government. He was followed by a Republican, George W. Bush, who cut taxes (which did not create more jobs), got us into two unfunded wars and built up an even bigger deficit, all of which he then left to his successor, Barack Obama.

Were the economic problems of 1988-1992 the fault of Bush 41, who 8 years earlier had warned against Reagan "voodoo economics"? Not really, but he bore the brunt of America's anger over a condition he did not create, and did not win re-election.

Could this scenario repeat in 2012? Can Obama escape this cycle of blame for a mess he inherited? Does the GOP have a candidate who can stay sane long enough to work Carville's theme against Obama? Will the Democrats even attempt to take back the fiscally-responsible image?

Read my lips -- it's too early to tell.