Friday, February 19, 2010

Economic Priorities of 2010

Conservatives love to claim that the plummet in popularity being suffered by President Obama and his congressional partisans is a result of their excessively liberal policies in a nation that is much more right-wing in its philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand, argue that Americans judge their incumbents based more on performance than ideology, with those who meet the needs of the times receiving high marks and those who fail to do so being punished with disapproval.

In order to determine which side is correct, I decided to go straight to the source - the American people themselves. Since I don't fear contradiction when I assert that the primary issue about which most Americans are concerned is the economy, I have decided to start with a poll that addresses which specific economic issues are consuming the country's attention:

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll (January 22-24, 2010):
How important is it to you that the President and Congress deal with each of the following issues in the next year?

Not That


"The economy"



"Unemployment" N=508 (Form A), MoE ± 4.5



"The federal budget deficit" N=501 (Form B), MoE ± 4.5



"Taxes" N=501 (Form B), MoE ± 4.5



Two important details here:

1) Americans are more concerned about issues that they perceive as having a direct affect on their day-to-day lives (such as rising joblessness) than they do subjects which, though potentially important, do not have the same sense of immediacy or urgency (such as the budget deficit).

2) Liberal economic programs focus on using the government's power to cultivate job growth, while conservatives emphasize cutting taxes and shrinking the budget deficit. Although unemployment and taxes both directly affect average Americans, 94% consider job creation to be either "Extremely Important" or "Very Important" (with a 58-36 breakdown) while only 69% consider taxes (and presumably a desire for lower taxes) to be either "Extremely Important" or "Very Important" (with a 33-36 breakdown). In short, while Americans would ideally prefer job growth AND lower taxes, if left with a choice, they would opt for the former and then, upon reaching that goal, strive to attain the latter. In short, the liberal economic program is, on principle, far closer to the sentiments of most Americans than its conservative counterpart.

Now that we've established that the foremost priority of most Americans is job creation, the next question is how Americans size up the performance of President Obama and Congress (which is dominated by Democrats) on these two fronts:

Quinnipiac University Poll (January 5-11, 2010):
Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Obama is handling creating jobs?





CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll (February 12-15, 2010):
Do you think Congress has done enough to create jobs, or don't you think so?

Has Done
Think So




For what it's worth, the American people are absolutely right in being upset with the performance of Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress on this front. No matter how much they may trumpet the alleged accomplishments of the stimulus package, the reality is that unemployment has gone up, wages have gone down, and our overall economy has seriously deteriorated since they took office.

Many Republicans like to take that last fact and extrapolate from it the idea that Democrats - and liberals particularly - are responsible for our plight. There are two problems with this assertion:

1) It doesn't just ignore the facts of history - which is easy enough to do when dealing with the Founding Fathers or Civil War - but it disregards facts that come from RECENT history. We had zero job growth during Bush's administration, along with stagnant wages, an increasingly disproportionate distribution of wealth, and rampant malfeasance on the part of big banks and large corporations due to deregulations that Bush pushed through. All of this culminated in widespread economic suffering that long preceded the Great Recession, which technically began in December 2007 (when Bush had more than a year left in office) and became a full-fledged meltdown in September 2008 (when Bush had four months left in office).

2) Apart from the fact that laying most of the blame at the feet of liberal policies and the Democratic Party isn't true, it also doesn't happen to be how most Americans feel, as shown below:

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll (January 8-10, 2010):
Do you think the Democrats or the Republicans are more responsible for the country's current economic problems?

Equally (vol.)

Quinnipiac University Polls (January 5-11, 2010):
Who do you blame more for the condition of the current condition of the U.S. economy: Former President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama?

BushObamaNeither (vol.)Both (vol.)Unsure

What Obama, the Democratic Party (particularly the Blue Dog Coalition, Democratic Leadership Council, and other "centrist" groups), and political pundits in general should learn from these conclusions is that Americans care less about means then they do about results. Most of them remember that our economic downturn began under George W. Bush, and as such have lingering resentment against both him and the conservative cause he represents; at the same time, most feel that President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress have not done enough to solve our economic problems, resulting in a gradually increasing decline in the esteem within which both our held. Considering that Americans place job creation above deficit reduction, tax cuts, and all other economic measures - AND considering that Americans fault Obama and the Democrats not for being too ACTIVE in working on these issues (as conservatives like to claim) but for being too INACTIVE - the way for Democrats to improve their standing in the polls is to pass legislation that aggressively tackles our nation's unemployment problem, even if doing so violates conservative tenets regarding deficit reduction and tax cuts.

This would most likely involve passing a second stimulus bill - at least $700 billion in private investment spending, plus $200 billion to help state and local governments meet their financial needs an additional $100 billion on a new WPA (to say nothing of legislation to re-empower labor unions, strengthen regulations on banks and large corporations, and force the hands of banks when it comes to offering loans to small businesses and socioeconomically disadvantaged Americans). Of course, this would temporarily require the theme of "cutting the deficit" - one shrilly propounded not merely by Republicans, but by Obama economic advisors like Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner - to go the way of the Dodo bird. What's more, while Americans will no doubt oppose such a measure (due less to any dislike of the principle of economic stimulus and more to the fact that the last one which went through Congress didn't cause any discernable improvement in our economy) that opposition will turn to support IF the second measure, unlike the first, has an IMMEDIATE and SIGNIFICANT effect on the twin issues of rising unemployment and falling wages. It is important to note, though, that skepticism regarding the viability of a second stimulus bill and strong progressive economic legislation is generally based NOT on whether it would work - for moderates as well as liberals generally concede that such measures would be quite effective - but whether getting them passed would be possible without great political risk and controversy.

That's what Obama would need to remember - centrist reservations about government spending, deficit reduction, and tax cuts need to be disregarded as at best immaterial and at worst counterproductive (at least for the time being), while the paranoid rantings of Republican politicians and right-wing grassroots groups would have to be viewed in the appropriate context - as the fumings of a vocal minority that is, nevertheless, A MINORITY. Because a second New Deal would work (as it did the first time), a second New Deal is what would best serve not only the United States of America, but the political fortunes of President Barack Obama and the Democratic party.

Note: It isn't that this country doesn't want a smaller deficit (or, Quixotic though this may sound, a non-existent one), and it isn't that we wouldn't prefer to have our taxes reduced; rather it is that we know our priorities. Before a balanced budget and lower taxes can have any meaningful effect on our lives, we first need to be gainfully employed.

1 comment:

Regina said...

AMEN, Bruthah!! A-MEN!