Both political parties claim all the credit for what went well and assign all blame for what didn’t to the other party. Although that has long been tribal custom, the practice has taken a serious turn for the worse.
Statements about our national debt — and what to do about it — are a prime case in point. Obama is often blamed for the debt’s existence. In fact, it is said so often that it sounds like truth.
In actuality, though, the charges act like the bullfighter’s cape, a means to divert attention from the reality. The Democrats are at fault for not vigorously presenting the history, for it tells a different story. Their failure allows our collective amnesia to go untreated. Now let’s review facts that are jarringly at odds with that popular picture.
First: Roosevelt’s 1933 policy of government spending and easy money brought us out of the Great Depression. Fear of inflation then motivated a tighter policy in 1937.
In the space of one year, Gross Domestic Product fell dramatically and industrial production declined by a third. The economy resumed its expansion when austerity was ended in 1938.
Second: Reagan tried “trickle-down” economics. On seeing that it didn’t work, he did what duty to his country required even though it betrayed campaign rhetoric: He raised taxes.
Third: There was a budget surplus at the end of Clinton’s presidency. Furthermore the debt was declining so quickly that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office foresaw paying it down by 2009.
Fourth: Bush renewed Reagan’s experiment by handing out tax cuts depriving the country of $1.3 trillion in revenue over ten years. To cover that loss, Congress had to raise the debt ceiling eight times. Unlike Reagan, he didn’t reverse his field but doubled down. His second-round tax cut led to raising the debt ceiling by nearly another trillion dollars.
Fifth: Obama entered the picture and was held responsible for debt accumulated by his predecessor. His critics conveniently forgot that the huge debt burden he inherited was dragging the economy down.
Sixth: Congress accommodated financial industry interests by exempting all transactions involving derivatives from regulation. Clever managers inflated a debt bubble that made them very rich. They won at the expense of untold numbers of people who lost homes, jobs and life’s savings … leaving them without the means to conduct business that would have contributed to recovery.
None of this is to say, nor even to imply, that everything would be fine if we just did whatever the Democrats say is good for the country. Neither is it to deny that the Democrats had any part in creating the debt or the shameful ideological deadlock in Congress. That would be nonsense.
It certainly is, though, a plea to state the economy’s problem accurately: Otherwise there is no hope of hammering out legislation to solve it. Doing that would likely improve Congress’ abysmal approval rating of 10 percent in a recent Gallup poll.
Frederick Hall lives in Grass Valley.