The continuing political battle regarding the debt ceiling in particular and the overall economy in general relates nicely to a scene in the masterful short-story “Until Gwen” by Dennis Lehane. The main character and his girlfriend are removing a hidden diamond from the room of a drugged nursing-home patient when the owner of that diamond, and the son of said patient, unexpectedly enters. The man calmly walks out of the room, only to return a moment later, wildly firing an antique pistol. One of the ricocheting bullets plugs his drugged-up mother in the ass and she falls to the floor.
“You shot my mother!” the man cries.
“You shot your mother!” the main character responds.
“No, you did. No, you did,” the man insists.
This string of absurdities finally prompts the main character to ask: “Who’s holding the fucking gun?”
The debt ceiling will be raised. It will be a messy compromise full of temporary clauses, with the real battle regarding the economy being fought in the upcoming campaigns for president. The current Republican candidates for president seem, relatively speaking, to have regained their sanity. It’s still a predominantly loony bunch of dreamers, but at least they have dropped their fantastic attacks on the president as being a Kenyan Socialist who wants to murder the elderly. At last they were able to recognize super-fiction as a failing strategy.
And if this trend continues, as it probably will with some coo-coo moments along the way in the primaries, Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for president in 2012. He’s the only viable candidate, for a number of reasons, but particularly because he is most associated with his fiscal expertise, and, according to the experts, the economy stands to be the only issue on voters’ minds in 2012. That’s reductive, considering the slew of other matters that matter to people, but fine. Throw all the other issues out the window and make the next elections solely a referendum on the economy.
Tax cuts for the wealthy, cutting government programs, and deregulation of major industry will be the Republican prescription, letting the magic of unfettered capitalism and self-sufficiency save our sorry asses. On the other hand, my money’s on the Dems going with job creation in infrastructure, high-speed rail, education, research, and green energy. Oh, and all of this will be paid for by tax hikes on the wealthy. Let’s see how this plays out with the American public.
But if there’s going to be an honest debate on the economy, a debate minus the fiction of the Kenyan–Socialist–Kill Granny variety, there has to be some honest accounting as to how the economy took a metaphorical bullet in the ass and fell to the floor.
In a nutshell, this is what happened: President Bush inherited a healthy budget surplus from the Clinton administration. President Bush turned that surplus into a massive deficit through steep tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and waging two wars with costs that didn’t appear in the annual budget. The Great Recession began under President Bush, spurred primarily by the lending crisis created by cuts in regulation, mostly instituted by the Republican controlled Congress (but initiated, in part, under Clinton). TARP was created and implemented by the Bush administration. President Obama inherited a severe recession (remember candidate McCain’s silly suspension of his campaign to address this fledgling economic crisis?).
Despite this gruesome economic hangover from the Bush administration, President Obama and his team have been somewhat effective. The bank bailout worked. The taxpayer loan has been paid back with interest. Wall Street has been somewhat humbled and essentially humming ever since, even factoring in the recent drops (remember the DOW spiraling towards 7,000?). The stimulus package worked, though it should have been bigger in order to create jobs not just save jobs—a compromise that has stymied a real recovery. Still, a potential for a depression was averted. The auto-industry bailout worked. Detroit is starting to work again. The economy in general is slowly, slowly recovering, though it is still in danger and needs to be a priority of the next administration. An honest accounting of how we got here needs to be part of the conversation.
Of course, experts, and hopeful Republicans, will only hear part of these equations, claiming voters don’t want to look back; they only want to look forward. Bullshit. Smart people want answers. Smart people recognize history, and while future policy initiatives will be part of the debate, the appropriate blame for the sorry state of the American economy has to be apportioned, as well, especially when many of those same failed policies are being reintroduced.
Informed voters surely recognize that the economy has been shot in the ass and fallen to the floor. This is not debatable. And when looking for reasons as to how this happened, voters must ask themselves: Who was holding the fucking gun?