Why are we assuming that a recovering economy spells bad news for Republicans and good news for Democrats? Democrats are taking credit for feeble signs that the economy and the job market are improving, but the victories they claim from their president’s first term have come from bailouts and giveaways they excused with the recession. What happens when things get better?
The White House is sticking to its strategy of waving charges of inequality and unfairness in voters’ faces to distract them from the snail’s pace of the recovery. President Obama continues to speak to his 98%, those making up to $250,000 per year who he claims are “…struggling with the rising cost of everything from college tuition to groceries.”¹
A recovering economy was bound to happen.
Democrats will figure out that sooner or later, no matter what they do or how much they spend, the economy will get better. The problem is that a recovering economy will need less of what Democrats and the president are selling and all they will have to fall back on is their usual populist backstory with less misfortune to prop it up. Americans are going to feel a whole lot better when their incomes rise and their job prospects improve. Looking back, what we will be left with are memories of glacially slow progress and a mountain of debt from opportunistic spending in the name of economic recovery that was going to happen no matter what we did.
Even if the unemployment rate falls below 8% this year we have to look back to the post-Carter recession to see numbers even close to what the country is suffering under Obama. The problem for Republicans is that Democrats have set their sights far beyond this presidency. They have been preaching to groups like Latinos, whose influence will expand massively during the coming decades, and public employees states can no longer afford. Whatever happens in 2012, the next four years are just a prelude to a plan that works best if things never get better. Americans have been handed villains like Wall Street firms, banks, and the wealthy to distract them from the president’s failings. Those villains need to remain as potent as they were made to appear during the worst days of the downturn.
Republicans blame the president for the meager economic recovery but they have an even better opportunity to charge Democrats with having nothing to offer in a good economy. Without the recession would the health care law have passed? Using big money to threaten the middle class was central to Mr. Obama’s campaign to get the bill approved:
So you’ve got a choice: Either no health insurance, in which case you’re taking a chance if somebody in your family gets sick that you will go bankrupt and lose your home and lose everything you’ve had — or you keep on ponying up money that you can’t afford.
See, these insurance companies have made a calculation. Listen to this. The other day, there was a conference call that was organized by Goldman Sachs. You know Goldman Sachs. You’ve been hearing about them, right?²
How does a recovering economy justify passing bad bills?
We know about Goldman Sachs. Their actions helped saddle us with the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which joined the Helping Families Save their Home Act, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, and a slew of other targeted bailouts and giveaways. Some bills like the student loan reform that rode in with the health care law served a dual purpose by publicly punishing bogeymen created by the White House while rescuing us from unfairness:
Year after year, we’ve seen billions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to the bankers and middlemen who handle federal student loans, when that money should have gone to advancing the dreams of our students and working families. And yet attempts to fix this problem and reform this program were thwarted by special interests that fought tooth and nail to preserve their exclusive giveaway.³
$68 billion in loan savings spread across 10 years is pocket change compared to the giveaways taxpayers funded for Democrats in 2009 and 2010 and is inconsequential compared to the debt and deficit run up by the Obama administration. Will a recovering economy be bad for Democrats? The president’s reelection prospects don’t seem to have been damaged by the unemployment rate. He can claim progress but the pace is so slow that the White House can continue the crusade to tax the wealthy for the benefit of poor couples making up to $249,999 annually. The question is how Democrats will justify spending in better times when bailouts are no longer the issue and debt and deficit they had a major role in creating come to the forefront.