By David Keene - 09/27/10 09:59 PM EDT
It’s déjà vu all over again.
In the early fall of 1992, George H.W. Bush was running for reelection, the economy was in recession and the Democrats had the incumbent president on the ropes. Bush was, they said, out of touch and perhaps incapable of understanding the challenges facing middle-class Americans grappling with real-world problems.
The president and his advisers argued that the recession was over. It had, according to most economists, ended that spring, and the nation was on its way to recovery. More evidence, the Democrats cried, that Bush didn’t get it.
This year, a Democratic president and his globetrotting spouse appear as divorced from the reality of today as then-President Bush seemed nearly two decades ago. Like Bush, Barack Obama comes across as a nice enough fellow who talks about things that just don’t matter to most Americans and insists on fixing things they aren’t sure are broken rather than tackling jobs they know need to be done.
And like Bush, Obama and his advisers are talking about economic experts who claim the recession is over. From a political perspective, a recession doesn’t end until the people suffering through it sense that things are getting better. In other words, it ain’t over until they say it’s over.
Just prior to the 1992 election, and long after the economic geniuses advising Bush told us the recession for which he was being blamed had ended, public polls revealed that nearly half of Americans thought we were still in the midst of a serious recession. Today, the numbers are similar and, as in 1992, the party in power is likely to take it on the chin.
The price the Democrats will pay this time around, however, is likely to be greater, because most Americans think that they are pursuing failed economic policies that will not only not help, but are likely to make things worse; and that the Democrats are hell-bent on doing what they want regardless of the feelings of the electorate.
Anyone who doubted this a week ago should have been convinced by the cynicism of last week’s decision to hold off on a vote on taxes until after the election. Before the election, no one in Congress wants to vote to extend existing rates for all taxpayers or to hold most of the nation’s taxpayers hostage in an attempt to extract more from higher-income taxpayers.
The American people and most economists to the right of Paul Krugman know in their bones that raising taxes during bad economic times is a dangerous idea that could strangle the fragile beginnings of an economic recovery right in its crib. The White House and the president’s allies in Congress thought earlier this year that they could play the class-warfare card to divide their opponents by forcing them to spend time defending attempts to extract more money from wealthier Americans.
It didn’t work. Democrats within Congress, as well as some of the president’s advisers, suggested that they abandon the scheme in favor of extending existing rates indefinitely, or at least until the economy recovers.
That idea doesn’t appeal to the ideologically driven men and women in control of the White House and Congress, who have instead only suspended their drive to raise taxes until after the November elections, when they can appeal to a lame-duck Congress to do what a Congress about to face an angry electorate wouldn’t do.
This disdain for the feelings of the electorate is bad enough, but the almost universal view among economists, business executives and casual observers is that one of the reasons the economy continues to struggle is that no one knows what the rules are going forward. Everyone remains too thoroughly in limbo to invest, even if they could get around the mortgage and credit underwriting rules.
Postponing the vote shows that the Democrats not only don’t get it, but that they are willing to delay job creation and economic recovery for purely ideological reasons.
If the voters didn’t have enough reasons to turn on liberals before last Thursday, they do now.
Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.