Credit Where Credit Is Due


During the Iraq occupation in 2006, I observed that at the top of their game conservative spinmeisters are as skilled at misdirection as close-up magicians at the Magic Castle. One of their best sleight-of-hand tricks is “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.” Steve Benen at Washington Monthly observed the same thing about the weak jobs numbers released last week and illustrates his point with simple graphics:

When the jobs reports were looking quite good in the early spring, Republican leaders were eager to take credit for the positive numbers they had nothing to do with. Needless to say, GOP officials are no longer claiming responsibility, and are in fact now eager to point fingers everywhere else. It’s a nice little scam Republicans have put together: when more jobs are being created, it’s proof they’re right; when fewer jobs are being created, it’s proof Obama’s wrong. Heads they win; tails Dems lose.

Their skill is remarkable; their faith-based propositions unblinkingly unfalsifiable. Tax cuts for “job creators” create jobs. And when jobs fail to appear, when the benefits stubbornly fail to “trickle down,” it simply means we need more tax cuts. Did you know tax cuts pay for themselves? It’s true … except it’s not. Just like the Iraq war cost only $50-$60 billion. Except it didn’t. Just like Iraq’s oil revenues paid for reconstruction. Except they didn’t.

Now, about that looming “debt crisis” Washington has been all atwitter about lately, John Amato reminds us that “Cheney said Reagan proved deficits didn’t matter, and conservatives didn’t even blink.” After Reagan’s death in 2004, the Washington Post took stock of his economic policies, quoting former Reagan administration official, conservative economist Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth:

“Voters and politicians became anesthetized to big deficits,” Moore recalled. “Reagan was running these big deficits, and liberals argued it was going to be Armageddon. We were going to ruin the economy. Interest rates were going to go through the roof. And none of these things happened.”

The fiscal shift in the Reagan years was staggering. In January 1981, when Reagan declared the federal budget to be “out of control,” the deficit had reached almost $74 billion, the federal debt $930 billion. Within two years, the deficit was $208 billion. The debt by 1988 totaled $2.6 trillion. In those eight years, the United States moved from being the world’s largest international creditor to the largest debtor nation.

It was almost as if Reagan intended to create a “strategic deficit,” one “so large that absolutely everyone becomes convinced that no more money can be spent.” But where Reagan failed in generating the requisite sense of imminent apocalypse, Bush II and 21st century Republicans succeeded (with a little help from Pete Peterson and the Koch brothers). Today, the Tea Party would primary Reagan as a faux-conservative apostate.

In this clip, Thom Hartmann gives credit where credit is due. He takes viewers for a stroll down Short Term Memory Loss Lane to remind them just where the debt “crisis” actually came from (as illustrated in another graphic). Still, the worst recovery on record for American workers has taken place with Barack Obama in the White House. That he hired economic advisors from the same school of economics as his Republican predecessor, and from the same accountability-free financial institutions whose cowboy capitalism triggered the Great Recession speaks volumes about the corporate capture of Washington. The president who promised change now bears responsibility for its perpetuation.


  1. Tom Sullivan says:

    Digby has been following the austerity movement and, after quoting some moralizing from Herbert Hoover, explains:

    They are “wringing out excesses” and putting the people on a more moral footing in which they will work harder for less money and cease depending on government programs to be there when they get sick or can’t work. Some people call this having “skin in the game” and others call it “fiscal responsibility”, but in the end, you cannot help but suspect that all this austerity is the ruling class’s way of preparing America for less affluence as globalization moves into the next phase — by making them grateful for having less. After all, suffering is supposed to be good for the soul. For the little people anyway.

    Krugman observes that when Republicans say “what we need to do to create jobs is slash government spending and cut government payrolls, that’s exactly what has been happening for the past year … Where’s my confidence fairy?”

    A commenter volunteers,”The confidence fairy ran off with the high priest of voodoo economics.”

  2. It’s worth noting that the economy only added 18,000 jobs last month … but if you look closer, the private sector added 80,000 and government shed 62,000 – so the real employment story is that government cut-backs are putting lots of people out of work. Teachers, public safety workers, environmental stewards and more.

    This is the Republican anti-stimulus, aimed at making the economy and particularly unemployment as bad as possible between now and Nov. 2012.

  3. Tom Buckner says:

    I read a good argument that all conservative policies are, in one way or another, meant to make labor cheap.

    The real Republican jobs vision: everyone has servants. Or is one.

  4. Ben says:

    Apologies for the rant, but all these economic arguments over the debt ceiling and who is responsible for this recession continues to circuitously end up again and again at the GOP protecting the wealthy in such a way that is only seems logical that these are efforts to further widen the gap – killing off middle America and creating a “have or have not society”. The GOP is slick at framing these issues as though they are fighting for no taxes – when they are really protecting HUGE tax loopholes.
    Scary how transparent it seems – NPR this morning interview with Dave Camp (R-MI) talking about raising the debt ceiling: talking tax reform saying “lower rates and closing loop holes”. WHAT>? really? that sounds familiar and promising…- but when pressed on why Cantor and Boehner are balking at a compromise that will end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans (ie “closing loopholes”) – Camp side-steps, following GOP talking points – never say ending of the tax breaks on the wealthiest – instead change the message to say this is “raising taxes”. Seriously? How long will the media allow the GOP to re-frame the issue and call ending a trillion dollar loophole for wealthy Americans “raising taxes”? Meet the Press discussed this tactic in terms of a gallon of milk going on sale one week, then returning to what milk usually costs – and calling this a price increase on milk. NO. Ending a gigantic Bush-era tax break for the wealthy is returning their tax rate to the level is SHOULD be and HAS BEEN…..this is not a tax hike. —OHMmmmmm….keep trying not to pull all of your hair out…..!