Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2006
IT’S IRAQ, STUPID
Why isn’t Bush getting credit for economic growth on his watch?
by Jonah Goldberg
EVEN IF YOU think President Bush deserves the pasting he’s getting in the polls on Iraq, domestic spying and other front-page gloom, it’s hard to deny he’s getting a raw deal on the economy.
Just look at the numbers. The economy grew 4.8% in the first quarter of 2006 (and for the 18th quarter in a row). Manufacturing is surging; construction spending is breaking records. The Dow is surging. Unemployment is 4.7% — lower than average for the last four decades. More than 5 million jobs have been created since 2003. Personal incomes are up more than 6% in the first quarter, and so is consumer confidence. Housing prices have risen dramatically and — knock on wood — it appears the boom isn’t ending with a crash, which means that all that increased wealth won't vanish the way the 1990s stock market boom did [!]. Layoffs are way down; productivity keeps moving up. Blacks and Latinos are starting businesses at far above the national average. ...
To the Editor [of the Los Angeles Times]:
Jonah Goldberg’s recounting of recent U.S. economic history (“It’s Iraq, stupid,” May 18) doesn’t jibe with my memory. Goldberg says, “Republican presidents rarely receive such fairness [on the economy]. The media held Reagan responsible for the 1981-1982 recession but merely darn lucky for the boom that followed.” Well, I was around in the 1980s, and I don’t remember it that way. During that decade’s economic rebound, the mainstream media, which I closely followed at the time, referred to it several times as the “Reagan Recovery.” I even vividly remember Reagan taking personal credit for the economic uptick during his 1984 re-election campaign, but I don’t remember anyone disputing him.
Goldberg goes on to say that “the media credited Clinton with ‘fixing’ the economy in the 1990s.” Maybe it was because President Clinton so clearly shaped his economic policies as compromises with a Republican-controlled Congress, but I don’t remember him being credited with the economic boom of the 1990s the way that Reagan was credited with the boom of the 1980s. Only recently and in retrospect have liberal economists begun referring to the 1990s as the “Clinton Prosperity.”
If Goldberg is wondering why there is discontent with the current economy, he should re-examine his statement: “Personal incomes are up more than 6% in the first quarter.” Other economists say that this is a misleading figure, since the percentage is an average that hides how much more disproportionately incomes are up among wealthier Americans than they are for middle-class families. In Paul Krugman’s words, “Average incomes rose [during the George W. Bush years], but only because of rising incomes at the top.” Furthermore, some social services that used to be better funded by tax dollars, such as health care and student loans, are now being increasingly passed on to the consumer.
But my main complaint with Goldberg’s column is that it marks a disturbing tendency among conservative pundits these days. Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress for ten of the last twelve years. A Republican has occupied the White House for the last six years, and opposition to his policies has effectively been paralyzed as “unpatriotic.” Furthermore, conservatives now have a commanding presence on the Supreme Court. In short, much of our nation’s direction is largely the result of Republican control of our government. Now, conservative commentators like Goldberg are rewriting history to portray Republicans as victims.
Well, I’m not buying it.