It is extremely difficult if not impossible to defeat an incumbent president when the economy is doing well. Just ask 1984 Democratic nominee Fritz Mondale, or 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole.
In the case of Donald Trump, the economy isn’t just healthy; it’s reached unprecedented milestones. America is enjoying the longest expansion in history. Unemployment reached and remains near a 50-year low. Nearly 7 million full-time jobs have been generated under Trump, including nearly a half million manufacturing jobs, after two decades of serious manufacturing decline widely viewed as irreversible.
There are two tacks from which to choose in confronting this politically. Democrats can argue that our prosperity is grossly exaggerated. Or they can claim they deserve the credit for the Trump economy.
Which of these strategies, both decidedly dubious in their chances of success, have the Democrats picked?
House Majority Whip James Clyburn is considered a kingmaker in the upcoming Democratic primary in his home state of South Carolina, where black support is vital. “I talk to African Americans. I go to church with them. And I know they’re not doing better,” Clyburn told ABC on Sunday. “If you go with unemployment numbers to determine people’s status, then you have to say that slaves were in very good shape because they were fully employed,” the House’s number three Democrat added. Later in the week, Clyburn repeated himself to Fox’s Neil Cavuto.
What an insult to more than 19½ million of Clyburn’s fellow blacks currently working, to suggest that they’re not really laboring for themselves and that their jobs are lacking in dignity.
Similar to Clyburn’s contention that employment statistics don’t really have value as an economic indicator, Nobel economics laureate, Bill Clinton economic adviser, and “Third Way” theorist Joseph Stiglitz has actually called for the abandonment of using gross domestic product to measure economic health. Sore losers always blame the rules when their opponents win.
Obama Credits Economic Policy He Admitted Failed
The very day after Clyburn’s outrageous claim appeared on ABC, Barack Obama tweeted that he was actually the one responsible for “paving the way for more than a decade of economic growth and the longest streak of job creation in American history” because of his economic stimulus, enacted 11 years ago this week.
Republicans were quick to respond, including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who threw Obama’s own words regarding the private sector back at him – “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” And Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who pointed out that, just days before, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was getting the word out to her Democrats that, as Blackburn put it, “We need to stop giving Obama credit for the economy, it’s a losing message.”
It’s quite remarkable that Obama is brandishing his so-called Recovery Act today, over a decade after he signed it. That’s because two and a half years after its enactment it was so clear to him and everyone else that it was a failure – a stimulus that wasn’t stimulating – he requested an emergency address before a Joint Session of Congress in September, 2011 to call for action. Democrats were in a state of panic because of how obvious it was that their stewardship of the economy was failing.
“Tonight we meet at an urgent time for our country,” he declared. “We continue to face an economic crisis that has left millions of our neighbors jobless.” His solution was yet another stimulus of nearly $450 billion. Again and again, in tones of desperation, Obama implored Congress to “pass this jobs bill.” But Congress wouldn’t, even though he warned Republicans, now in control of the House of Representatives, that “doing nothing is not an option.” In the end even a significant number of congressional Democrats opposed it.
Later in the speech, he condescendingly said, “I realize that some of you have a different theory on how to grow the economy. Some of you sincerely believe that the only solution to our economic challenges is to simply cut most government spending and eliminate most government regulations.”
Nearly a decade later, Trump, subscribing to that “different theory,” massively cut regulations and drastically reduced tax rates, in particular our globally non-competitive corporate rate, and suddenly the U.S. economy outperformed the experts’ projections.
That 2011 speech is a dim memory today, but at the time it was obvious that the Obama presidency was at its nadir because it was so clear his economic policies weren’t working. First Lady Michelle looked crestfallen as she took her seat in the visitors’ gallery. The “hope and change” president’s rhetoric that night was all about dampening expectations. “I don’t pretend that this plan will solve all our problems,” he told the chamber in his concluding remarks. “It should not be, nor will it be, the last plan of action we propose. What’s guided us from the start of this crisis hasn’t been the search for a silver bullet. It’s been a commitment to stay at it – to be persistent – to keep trying every new idea that works, and listen to every good proposal, no matter which party comes up with it.”
Fast forward to today, nearly eight and a half years later, and it sure sounds like Obama considers the 2009 stimulus to have been “a silver bullet” for which his golden-haired successor is wrongly taking credit. In truth, Obama’s trillion-dollar stimulus caused the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis to be the most lethargic in American history.
Democrats are going to have to decide which side of their split personality they think gives them any chance of ousting President Trump in November. Unfortunately for them, as we’ve seen, both Clyburn’s claims that the jobs boom is a slave economy, and Obama’s assertion that the policies he admitted were failing two and a half years after their implementation are now succeeding under Trump, are equally absurd.
— Written by Thomas McArdle
Note to Readers: Issues & Insights is a new site launched by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. Our mission is to use our decades of experience to provide timely, fact-based reporting and deeply informed analysis on the news of the day.
We’re doing this on a voluntary basis because we think our approach to commentary is sorely lacking both in today’s mainstream media and on the internet. If you like what you see, feel free to click the Tip Jar over on the right sidebar. And be sure to tell your friends!