Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Changing the subject

Something has happened in our national political discussion in the past few weeks, and it seems to have slipped under the radar.

The Republicans changed the subject.

Remember all the way back to the fall of 2010? The Democrats were the party in charge, so they were the ones who took the fall when the unemployment rate hovered in the nine-to-10 percent range. That's the price of being in charge in this country; parties (and Presidents) get too much credit for economic affairs when things go right, and too much blame when things go wrong.

Besides, as I think I've written here, the Democrats did a poor job of explaining their actions in 2010. They needed to say how bad the recession was, and that government programs and bailouts such as the one for General Motors lowered the unemployment rate by a few percentage points. If anything, the financial wizards did a very good job of preventing much more pain than we actually suffered.

Then, after the election, the numbers started to turn more drastically. Unemployment dropped down to nine percent -- still very high, but headed in the correct direction. The Dow Jones continued going up. The industrial average has doubled in the past two-plus years. It's not where it once was, but it's headed in the correct direction.

Suddenly, we've stopped hearing about jobs, jobs and jobs. All of a sudden, the conversation has shifted to budget deficits. House Speaker John Boehmer talked about the need for cuts in federal spending. In a quote that may stick with him for a while, he said that if people lose their jobs along the way, "so be it."

The reaction to President Obama's proposed federal budget goes along with that. You've seen the pictures of copies of the budget, bigger than the Manhattan phone book. I assume this means that a lot of work went into it, and that preparation for its release was done months in advance.

It sure looks as if the Obama proposed budget was based on the fall of 2010 conversation -- prop up the economy with deficit spending to give it time to continue its recovery. The reaction of some on the right was based on the new winter of 2011 conversation. I suppose I'd expect Sean Hannity to use the word "cowardly" to describe the proposed budget, because he has to constantly raise the rhetorical stakes in order to keep his audience engaged. I thought ex-Reagan budget director David Stockman, who had been pretty quiet for a quarter-century, might do better than using that word, though.

It's always a good idea for anyone and anything, including government, to try to spend only what you take in. Government, however, isn't allowed to save up much for a rainy day, and the political climate rules out attempts to raise more revenue no matter what the circumstances are. That doesn't leave much wiggle room.

We need to get together and figure out roughly what we absolutely need to do and how to pay for it, with any option on the table. I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

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