Monday, August 23, 2004

Republicans Abandoning Reagan (That Didn't Take Long)

I ran on Monday, rather than Sunday; the editor gave my space to Gloria Feldt, President of Planned Parenthood, and that was fine with me. Gloria, here, was responding to an op-ed from the previous Sunday, here.

Democrats are mocked for overlooking Kerry's flaws, which are that he's not the world's most inspiring speaker and his personal manner can seem stiff. Why are Republicans exempt from scorn, when they are busy overlooking Bush's flaws, which seem much more substantial--and which require Republicans to ignore long-standing beliefs, like their worship of everything Reagan?

The newspaper version of my column is here.

It's the Economy, Stupid

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 23, 2004

It didn’t take long after his funeral for The Tribune to decide that voting for Ronald Reagan meant you were ill-informed.

Reagan framed the 1980 election for voters: “Ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?” But last Wednesday, The Tribune fretted that “[m]any votes in this election surely will turn on the question: Am I better off or worse off than I was four years ago?”

That’s the very standard by which Reagan asked voters to decide. That would make it a very good question, right? Wrong.

This year, The Tribune says Reagan was wrong, scolding voters who determine their vote using the Gipper standard: “Those won’t be the best informed votes, because they assume the president has more influence over the economy than he possibly can have.”

That’s just the latest contortion that President Bush’s actual record has forced upon good conservatives. First, they’ve abandoned years of decrying deficit spending; Republican Jon Kyl has now voted for budgets with bigger deficits than has Democrat Ed Pastor. Next, they’ve forgotten their opposition to nation-building and humanitarian interventions; Republicans who opposed working with NATO allies to stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans now want the U.S. going it essentially alone to foment human rights in Iraq.

Bush’s woeful record now has conservatives abandoning Ronald Reagan’s signature quote. Instead, votes cast as Reagan asked are now “not the best informed.” Is reelecting Bush so important that conservatives are abandoning Reagan, too?

Yet if voters hold George W. Bush responsible for the economy, it’s not just because of Reagan, but also because of Bush himself. The administration pushed through its last round of tax cuts, the ones wildly titled toward the richest tier, by repeatedly calling it a jobs package. It’s the “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003,” for goodness sake. If Bush (and The Tribune) regret that people blame Bush for the lack of job growth, and that Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs, well, it’s a little late now.

The Bush administration has consistently overestimated job creation. Each year, they’ve issued increasingly overoptimistic forecasts. When their numbers proved far more Dr. Pangloss than Dr. Greenspan, they simply abandoned their prior forecast, plugged in the new lower jobs number -- and then issued another wildly overoptimistic forecast. If voters hold Bush responsible, it’s his own fault.

The Bush administration doesn’t flip-flop, that’s certain. Instead, they tell us things which informed observers say at the time aren’t true, and which turn out to be false. They make predictions that outside experts say have no basis in reality, and which don’t come close to being true. In response, the Bushies just tell us more falsehoods and issue more absurdly optimistic projections, without ever admitting error. (To quote the Master himself: “I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.”)

Bush is welcome to campaign by telling voters that they’re somehow actually better off than they think. That’s a much tougher job than mocking Al Gore, abetted by the national media. Voters just love it when a politician in Washington says he knows better than they do.

As Jacob Hacker of Yale wrote in the Aug. 16 The New Republic, maybe “[v]oters say the economy isn’t getting better because, as far as they’re concerned, it’s not” -- because Americans are “facing rising economic insecurity even as basic economic statistics improve.”

(Read the whole thing -- and begin understanding why economic security matters more than gross domestic product percentages.)

Voters didn’t react positively to overall economic good news in 1994, either. But having reaped that harvest, Republicans have no grounds to complain that people trust their own feelings about their economic future more than abstract economic numbers -- or Bush’s pronouncements about “turning the corner.”

Neither should The Tribune. After all, it’s what Ronald Reagan asked us to do.

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