Politics and Policy

Everyone knew there would be political fallout from the bad jobs numbers last week, many just thought it wouldn’t be this bad.  60% of Americans don’t believe that America is in the midst of a recovery at all.  This, despite the best efforts of economists, will remain the prevailing view until either the jobs market improves or the debt ceiling crisis is averted.  I’m pretty pessimistic on both fronts.  Here’s why:

Even people who are working are working more for less.  Although average wage earnings have gone up (all of 1.2% over the last three years) people are seeing the average cost of goods go up as well, meaning that unless people start making substantially more money, they’re not going to see a noticeable difference in their bank account.  And our economic recovery isn’t going to take off at the rate we need it to until consumer confidence goes up in a significant way and most polling shows that that isn’t going to happen anytime soon either.

Now, as much as I dislike the White House’s rhetoric on why we are where we are economically, if you crunch the numbers, their argument makes a lot of sense.  The problem is that their argument doesn’t poll particularly well.  But, look at the economic data before President Obama took office:

Imagine inheriting that mess.  It’d be a pretty tough sell for anybody.  People forget just how low George W. Bush’s approval numbers were, particularly on the economy.  But, this isn’t an excuse for how slow the recovery has been.  What we really need are policy based initiatives, not politically based ones and today in the New York Times, David Brooks did a really silly thing: he criticized the only chance we have at cost-control within our health care system.

Not only is this not helpful, it’s counter-productive.  I understand why conservatives hate the Affordable Care Act.  It’s really simple: Obama passed it, therefore it is evil.  But, to make the Sarah Palin argument that government controlled anything is a bad idea isn’t just an endorsement of ignorance and stupidity, it’s an endorsement of a false ideology.  The truth is that there are certain things the government does really well (Medicare) and there are things it doesn’t do very well in (like waging wars in third world countries.)  This evidence shouldn’t suggest, as Brooks would have us believe, that simply because something hasn’t worked in the past, we should never try it again.  It means that instead of doing the same thing over and over again, we should analyze what went wrong in the first place and try to fix those problems the second time around.

This is what we’re trying to do with health care and the deficit.  The problem that we’re facing on these two fronts are the political wars being waged against genuine improvements to these problems.  Ideas like raising revenues so that expenses = revenues shouldn’t be thrown off the table because it’s politically toxic for you.  If we could balance the budget and reduce the deficit simply by cutting spending, we’d do it, but we can’t and we know we can’t, that’s why we haven’t come up with a solution yet.  But to go into this fight saying that deficit reduction is your goal and only be willing to attack spending as a solution is to admit defeat before the battle has even started.

We’ve tried all sorts of approaches when it comes to these problems and the reason that we haven’t gotten anywhere in the past isn’t due to a lack of ideas of leadership, it’s due to the toxicity of the process.  To quote JFK: “we don’t do these things because they are easy, we do them because they are hard.”  That’s the kind of attitude we need to have if we’re going to have any realistic chance at winning this war on the deficit and real health care reform.  If we go in with the attitude that we only want to win the battles that are going to aid in the advancement of the permanent campaign, we’re not going to get anywhere at all.  And there can be no worse outcome given our present economic situation, than remaining stagnant.

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