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President Barack Obama’s re-election turns on his ability to convince voters that 1) Obama inherited a “Great Recession,” 2) every “independent” economist supported the “stimulus,” 3) “bipartisan” economists agree that Obama’s stimulus worked, and 4) as actor Morgan Freeman puts it, racist Republicans say, “Screw the country … we’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man outta here” — nothing to do with deeply held policy differences.
That’s a lot of merchandise to push.
1) Take this “Great Recession” business.
Remember the “misery index”? The term, popularized by former President Jimmy Carter, used to mean inflation plus unemployment. Unfortunately for John Kerry, by the time he ran for president in 2004, the misery index stood at 7.4 midway into the election year, the same as when George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000. What to do? Change the definition. Kerry invented a new misery index, one that included only high-rising costs like college tuition, health care and gas prices.
Similarly, “bad economic times” used to mean, above all, high unemployment. Within a year of Obama’s presidency, unemployment climbed to 10.2 percent. Within three years of Reagan’s presidency, unemployment reached 10.8 percent. Under Obama, inflation has been — at least so far — rather modest. Early in Reagan’s presidency, inflation reached 13.5 percent. Rather than describe this era as the “Great-Recession-turned-around-by-Reagan’s-pro-growth-policies,” many pundits and scribes dismiss this period of extraordinary growth as the “me decade” or the “decade of greed.”
2) “There is no disagreement,” said then-President-elect Barack Obama, “that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jump-start the economy.”
What?! More than 200 economists, including several Nobel laureates, signed on to a full-page ad placed in major newspapers by the libertarian Cato Institute. Eventually, over 130 more economists became signatories to the ad.
It read: “With all due respect, Mr. President, that is not true. Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we the undersigned do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance.
“More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan’s ’lost decade’ in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today.
“To improve the economy, policymakers should focus on reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production. Lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government are the best ways of using fiscal policy to boost growth.”
These 350 or so notable economists notwithstanding, Obama later doubled down: “This is what independent economists have said — not politicians, not just people in my administration. Independent experts who do this for a living have said this jobs bill will have a significant effect for our economy and for middle-class families all across America. And what these independent experts have also said is that if we don’t act, the opposite will be true. There will be fewer jobs; there will be weaker growth.”
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