Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Obamanomics

The following editorial was published in "The Morning Call" (circulation 90,000) on December 15, 2011. The original piece can be found here:

The Labor Department recently reported that 140,000 jobs were created in November, causing unemployment to fall to 8.6 percent, the lowest it has been in 21/2 years. When you add that to the nearly 3 million jobs that grew in the private sector over the past 21 months, you have to wonder whether Obamanomics is starting to work.

The answer is no. It has always worked.

Of course, statements like that run afoul of one of the far right's two cherished myths about Obamanomics. Since their usual response when contradicted is to fulminate against the nonbeliever, liberals are often advised to keep quiet and let them have fun with their myths. The problem with that strategy, though, is that it doesn't allow us to have fun with our facts.

Myth No. 1: Obamanomics failed to address the unemployment crisis.

The facts: Do you remember when unemployment was mushrooming? It only rose gradually at first, climbing from slightly under 5 percent when the recession began in December 2007 to slightly more than 6 percent nine months later. When Wall Street crashed in September 2008, that mild swelling became an explosion, with the rate skyrocketing at a catastrophic average of 0.4 percent per month until Obama's stimulus bill took effect roughly three months after being passed. By then, the joblessness percentage had doubled in a year and a half to 9.4 percent in the month (May 2009) the stimulus began to work.

At that point the explosion stopped. Thanks to the pump-priming effect of the stimulus, unemployment stabilized at between 9.4 and 10.1 percent for the next year and a half. After Obama attached a second stimulus to the Bush tax cut extensions of December 2010, it actually fell slightly, staying within the 8.8 to 9.4 percent range for the first 10 months of 2011. Now it's at 8.6 percent — still tragically high, but nevertheless a marked improvement given the mess that existed for more than a year before this president took office.

Myth No. 2: Obamanomics is socialistic.

The facts: This assertion would be quite justified if Obama's policies adhered to the tenets of socialism, which according to Merriam-Webster involves "advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." Obama, though, is the president who refused to nationalize the banks after the Wall Street meltdown despite widespread calls to do so, who campaigned in 2008 not for a single-payer health care system but for a public option (to protect a free market presence in medicine), and who upon being elected replaced the public option with the individual mandate, a right-wing alternative that originated from the Heritage Foundation and was originally sponsored by Republicans like Newt Gingrich.

When confronted with such information, right-wingers usually resort to claiming that while Obama's policies may not be literally socialistic, they are putting us on a slippery slope toward socialism. This ignores that slippery slope arguments are fundamentally illogical, since they commit the fallacy of asserting one event will inevitably follow another without proving that such a succession is inherent.

It also ignores that many of America's earliest leaders supported expanding the government's role in areas of the economy that had previously been private or locally-administered. Indeed, one of the main reasons delegates at the Constitutional Convention wanted to discard the Articles of Confederation was that they believed a stronger central state was required to fund adequate infrastructure projects and prevent economic bedlam.

That same mentality prompted George Washington to create the first national post office, Thomas Jefferson to propose federal funding for schools, roads and canals, Abraham Lincoln to finance state colleges and the transcontinental railroad, and Theodore Roosevelt to pass laws regulating food and drugs, as well as advocate social insurance, minimum-wage laws, and eight-hour workdays. If those spending projects and regulations were all socialistic, then Independence Hall and Mount Rushmore must be the meccas of the far left.

All of this reminds me of a memorable quip from my political hero, Adlai Stevenson, which I think liberals should use today just as he employed it nearly 60 years ago: "I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends … if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them."