Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Dare the President Contradict Right-Wing Talking Points!

Michael Gerson is in full-scale stenographer mode today, serving up one right-wing talking point after another. Sometimes you have to wonder.... Leaving aside for the moment that Gerson is feigning apoplexy over the fact that the President is spinning the latest job numbers in, well, exactly the manner you would expect, some of Gerson's arguments are just plain absurd:
While the jobs number for June was bad, it was probably not bad enough to result in another round of quantitative easing when the Federal Reserve meets late this month. So Obama is left with a series of recycled State of the Union proposals — maintaining existing middle-class tax breaks, spending on infrastructure, funding some jobs for teachers — that no self-respecting Keynesian economist would judge sufficient.
In other words, as the President has no remedies he can administer without action by Congress, all he can do is urge Congress to act. Which it won't, because the House is controlled by Gerson's party and wants to harm the President's chance of being reelected. Gerson sputters that this means the President suffers from "ideological exhaustion" and "seems incapable of producing an economic agenda equal to his political challenge". Well, no, not if you look at the facts. It would be fair to say that the President, like most people, underestimated the severity of the recession and the probability for robust recovery when he took office, but for the past couple of years it has been the policy of the Republican Party to obstruct anything that might materially aid the recovery.

Gerson tells us the crucial question:
The relevant question: Has Obama accelerated or slowed the recovery?
And as Gerson knows, the overwhelming consensus is that, yes, Obama's policies, quantitative easing and stimulus spending have accelerated the recovery. So Gerson predictably resorts to a single fellow alumnus of the G.W. Bush Administration, a guy who consistently posts screeds against the Obama Administration, who says,
“Government, measured by federal spending, is this year about 15 percent bigger than the historical average, measured relative to the economy. . . . This drains resources from private firms and individuals and means slower productivity growth.”
You'll note first that this is a non sequitur. The quoted passage does not contradict the consensus view that Obama's policies have accelerated the recovery. Instead it's a canard - a conclusory statement that this year's public spending is causing reduced private investment. Never mind the facts. Corporations are floating on a sea of cash. When somebody purports that corporations have been drained of cash by the President's economic policies it raises that age-old question - fools or frauds?

Gerson carries on,
Obama’s major regulatory initiatives, particularly Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform, have added to economic uncertainty. Businesses are waiting for the implications of these laws to become clear, and federal rules to be written, before making investment choices.
Okay... first lets look at "the Dodd-Frank financial reform". That reform became law on July 21, 2010. Why does Gerson believe that, almost two years later, businesses have not figured out what it requires? Now I'll grant, the Republicans have done everything they can to complicate its implementation, to hobble and delay the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, and various lawsuits have been filed, but that's not the President's doing.

The "Obamacare" story is similar. The Republican Party did everything it could to obstruct the development and passage of the Affordable Care Act and, when unsuccessful, spent two years litigating the constitutionality of the ACA, culminating in its being upheld by the Supreme Court. The Republican Party has since encouraged Republican governors to be as obstructionist as possible when it comes to implementing the ACA.

In short, to the extent that confusion and uncertainty remain problems, it's not because of the President. It's because Gerson's own party has gone out of its way to create an unstable, uncertain environment. If Gerson believes that disqualifies his party from holding office, I see no reason to argue.

Gerson next resorts to platitudes, "the Obama administration has failed to make tough calls and secure legislative compromises on a variety of issues — the federal debt, future tax rates, the Keystone XL pipeline — that might remove sources of economic uncertainty". Gerson is apparently not familiar with separation of powers, and believes that the President is in fact a Prime Minister - able to introduce legislation and vote on it in the House of Representatives.

If Gerson double-checks, I am confident that he will discover that the President is in the Executive branch of government, and cannot "secure legislative compromises" unless the legislature is willing to compromise. While it's not even slightly surprising that Gerson blames the President for his party's rebuffing the President's attempt to negotiate a long-term budget deal, it is not the President's fault that Speaker Boehner developed wobbly knees when confronted with the need for a tax increase, nor is it his fault that Boehner has not since pushed his party to work with the President on budget issues.

Gerson is apparently asleep at the switch on "future tax rates", as if he reads his own paper he will see that the President is again proposing a deal on future tax rates. It is anticipated that the Republican Party will again refuse to negotiate, and perhaps again throw the country into turmoil through "hostage taking" tactics over the debt ceiling. You want to talk uncertainty? The Republican Party is its leading author.

The fact that Gerson is not even attempting to be serious - that he's coughing out one Republican talking point after another, facts be damned, is illustrated by his reference to the Keystone XL pipeline. The economic benefit of the pipeline, once approved, looks to be minimal, and contrary to Gerson's suggestion there are valid financial arguments about the project - both in terms of exaggerated job creation (permanent jobs will be somewhere between 20 and a few hundred, probably at the lower end) and financial risk. What uncertainty does Gerson imagine has been created by the delay, and how many fingers do I need to use to count the number of businesses affected buy that supposed uncertainty?

Gerson has faith in Romney - that he's soon going to pupate and emerge as, well, probably not a butterfly but perhaps as a reasonably attractive moth?
A humanizing Romney convention speech, some reassuring debate performances, a few innovative policy proposals appealing to Latinos or suburban women — and Romney becomes a more broadly imaginable president.
You will note that when it comes to a Republican all Gerson asks for is a "humanizing" speech (compassionate conservatism?), debate performances that aren't too embarrassing, and some pandering to "Latinos or suburban women". Policy proposals? Get real. Those are for the other side.

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