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April 21, 2005


Lots of other things can have negative impact on a political party's fortunes -- foreign fiascos like Vietnam or the hostage crisis, cultural struggles like civil rights and abortion -- but, when you get right down to it, nothing swings voters like economics. People thought Reagan won on "standing tall", but take away spiralling gas prices and the resultant recession and we might never have had the Teflon president. Similarly, extend the '81-'82 recession into the '84 election, and you're looking at much different recent history. And, if you want to know how Bush squeaked by last year, forget gay marriage and the Swift Boat creeps -- look at those three months of respectable job growth in late Spring. Without them, Dems had a great argument we were in essentially low-grade recession. They were just enough to counter the notion, and swing Bush over the top.

The problem is, for the GOP, the long-term situation remains. Those three months (really the bare minimum, by Clintonian standards) have not been matched since, and all signs are we're headed into a rougher patch (possibly MUCH rougher). Which really is remarkable: Bush has presided over a period of zero job growth -- and that was the up part of the cycle. Plus he's managed to drain the treasury at the same time, making many stimulative moves a difficult sell -- particularly the only sort likely to occur to a GOP Congress: cut taxes on rich people. This wasn't a popular idea two years ago; if they try to float it now, you'd get something like open revolt (even Alan "I've suddenly noticed the deficit" Greenspan would have a tough time playing along).

Sometimes I ponder the alternate universe, where President Gore is confronted with a slowdown in early '01. With a surplus in hand, he offers targeted tax cuts for the middle class, staving off all but a brief dip. And if 9/11 still comes about (not a given, as he would have read the memos), he uses the shock of the emergency to force through a major upgrade of our security force -- not only bringing about real improvement at airports and ports, but also putting money into the economy that provides true stimulus instead of sitting in rich folks' bank accounts.

The GOP is trapped: only Democratic programs are likely to provide the boost this economy needs, and Republicans either can't acknowledge that, or can't conceive of it. This is why I think we're likely to see a truly bad couple of years, with the only silver lining being a dramatic resurgence of Democratic voting.

I love how "both parties" face a danger if they don't pivot onto the economy. The "economy" is a whole cluster of pocketbook issues, including health care costs, gas prices, concerns about pensions and social security; in short, a whole cluster of issues on which Dems destroy the Repubs, especially when the Repubs control every branch of Gov't during the downturn (or stagnation, or even, in light of this week's data, stagflation).

I'm with both Dems on this one; what would be bad for the country does have the possibilty of being a huge boon for Democrats at the ballot boxes.

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