Politicians love to try to stir voters’ imaginations with lofty talk about elections being about our future.
There’s certainly some truth to that. But the choice voters must make in just a few short weeks is really, in some real sense, about the past.
Specifically, do they want our economy to look more like the 1990s, or instead, like the decade that followed them?
The ’90s, of course, were big boom years for a wide cross-section of Americans. The economy in the 2000s, meanwhile, just sort of sputtered along lamely, until the bottom fell out entirely in 2008. If you didn’t start the “aughts” being rich, you probably didn’t do terribly well.
Someone once said that when Bill Clinton was president, all the things that went up are supposed to go up (GDP, job creation, wages, and the stock market) and all the the things that went down are those that are supposed to go down (unemployment, interest rates, poverty and the federal budget deficit). But for George W. Bush, the reverse was true. The things that are supposed to go up actually went down and the things that are supposed to go down, went up.
President Obama and the Democrats are trying to replicate the Clinton era, which was the longest economic expansion in peacetime ever in American history. The GOP, meanwhile, would prefer to keep the Bush years going.
The Republicans aren’t exactly going around campaigning with placards adorned with the face of our 43rd president. But their top economic priority is to extend tax cuts enacted under Bush, especially those for the top 2 richest percent of Americans.
Obama’s own treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, spelled out the choice in a speech this summer in Washington.
“In the 1990’s, sound fiscal policies led to large surpluses and important investments in the middle class, which helped contribute to a period of strong growth and job creation,” Geither said, before describing the fiscal failures of the subsequent Bush years.
“Washington changed course, abandoned the basic disciplines of budgeting, and borrowed to finance expensive tax cuts skewed towards the most affluent,” he said of the Bush era. “The result was a huge increase in our debt burden, relatively slow job growth, and stagnation in incomes for the middle class.”
Republicans like to talk about reining in the federal deficit, but extending the tax cuts for the richest Americans would just blow a $700 billion hole in it.
On the other hand, under Obama’s preferred strategy, the middle class would keep their tax cut and taxes would rise only on those wealthiest taxpayers — kind of like just how it was when Bill Clinton sat in the Oval Office.
Back then, I seem to recall the rich still doing pretty darn well, and so did most of the rest of us, too.
Republicans like to boast that their anti-tax agenda is the real key to creating jobs. They’ve also hammered Obama mercilessly for his economic stimulus program which conservatives like to claim has failed.
Except the exact opposite is true. Yes, unemployment remains high — too high. And it’s been more difficult to get it under control than many folks thought even just a year ago.
But even with all of that true, more jobs have been created this year under Obama than during the entire eight years of the Bush administration. And, no, before someone cries “socialism,” the jobs we’re talking about are private sector jobs — not government employment.
Please remember that it even took Clinton a while to get our economic engine moving again after the recession he inherited. But once it did, boy was it hummin’.
Or we could go back to the conservative voodoo economics promised by Republicans, which drove our economy so far into a ditch that it needed bailouts to save.
That’s the choice voters have to make this year.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article first published as Back To The Future, Or Do Voters Want To Party Like Its 1999? on Blogcritics.