There is no truer truism in American politics than James Carville’s catchphrase from the 1992 election “It’s the economy, stupid.” When people discuss Barack Obama’s current approval rating, which is at its lowest level ever, they may invoke his supposed lack of toughness or his tendency toward moderation, but the only really important factor is the dismal state of the U.S. job market. The American Jobs Act, which Obama is now promoting across the country, is an attempt to change this, by giving the economy a temporary boost with a mixture of tax cuts and government spending amounting to $447 billion. It’s an excellent idea: many independent analysts suggest that it could boost G.D.P. growth over the next year by 1.5 per cent or better, and create as many as one and a half million jobs. And it’s ideologically canny. A hefty chunk of it comes in the form of tax cuts, which Republicans typically love, and much of the rest would go toward more spending on infrastructure, which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has expressed support for. Even so, it’s unlikely that House Republicans will pass the bill, and there’s a good chance that they’ll stop it even from coming up for a vote.So the story is complex. The Republicans profess a deep love of country but they are willing to block any attempt to revive the economy. The Democrats claim an eagerness to fix the economy but they put in place a stimulus which is too small and call it "adequate" and ignore the suffering. And to top it all off, the electorate wants to "send a message" but they use election results which will be read by the Republicans as a pat on the back and a "job well done!" when in fact the electorate is boiling with rage and feeling impotent. What a mess.
But people are underestimating a number of factors that could allow the G.O.P. to pursue an obstructive line without being much punished for it. To begin with, studies show that voters are more likely to hold politicians accountable for economic conditions when there’s “clarity of responsibility”—and responsibility for the economy now belongs to Obama and the Democrats. The recession started long before Obama took office. But, from a voter’s perspective, he had two years with sizable majorities in Congress to do something about it. While the 2009 stimulus plan succeeded in making the recession less awful than it might have been, you rarely get credit in politics for what didn’t happen. More important, in launching the plan, the President effectively took responsibility for the result. If you try to fix it, it’s yours.
It’s not that the Republican approach is popular: one recent Bloomberg poll found that forty-five per cent of those surveyed think congressional Republicans are responsible for the gridlock in Washington. But it seems to be working: for the past year and a half, the Party has consistently gone for a do-nothing approach and voters have consistently rewarded it. In the run-up to last year’s midterms, Republicans were explicit about their opposition to past, present, and future stimulus programs. They won a landslide victory. And, just last week, in two special elections for the House, Republican candidates who campaigned largely against Obama’s policies won seats in Nevada and New York by margins that were much bigger than expected. Americans may be saying that they want the government to use fiscal policy to get the economy moving again, but the way they vote tells a different story. Perhaps fourteen more months of economic stagnation and no job creation will change that. But, for now, it’s not only our representatives who are to blame. It’s ourselves.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Unraveling the Complexity of US Politics
What people say is not what they mean, especially politicians in the US. But even the electorate is sending mixed messages. Here's an attempt to unravel the complexity. Read these bits from an article by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker looking at Obama's "jobs plan" and the current political reality in the US: