The Bush-Cheney re-election team really wants to change the subject from Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the 9/11 Commission to the economy, where even Democrats admit things have improved from their nadir.
But Bush-Cheney want to convince the American people that things are downright rosy, and in their usual over-the-top, full-court-press, don't-confuse-me-with-the-facts, ends-justify-the-means, my-interpretation-of-the-numbers-are-better-than-your-numbers style, that means that anyone who points out basic facts -- like John Kerry -- is a backward-looking, ill-advised pessimist.
The Bush administration needs an ignorant society to make its claims of success stick -- at home or abroad. And too often, the media is all too willing to help. I don't know if it's simply giving the administration the benefit of the doubt, laziness in reporting, or a true belief that the economy is good. It doesn't really matter, because any way you slice it, it's just bad journalism.
Yesterday, USA Today
followed the lead of the Bush spin points and wrote an editorial on how Kerry's "credibility is wilting" because he keeps talking about the struggles of the middle class "even in the midst of a robust expansion" of the economy.
Read the points that USA Today
makes, and consider the pained logic they use to knock Kerry:
•Kerry's index paints a partial inflation picture. It plots the rise in costs for health care, gasoline and college tuition, which have risen sharply during Bush's presidency, but it ignores falling or stable prices for other items — from cars to computers to clothing. It also ignores the relatively low unemployment rate of 5.6%, record low interest rates and a stock market up 40% from its 2002 lows, despite recent doldrums.
Take a look at these points:
1) Health care, gasoline and college tuition costs are up, but Kerry doesn't consider cars, computers and clothing. Alliteration aside, which grouping costs more? If you don't have health care insurance, even prescriptions can run into the hundreds or even thousands. If you don't have health care, a necessary procedure certainly can run into the tens of thousands. College tuition? Most public universities are charging $1,500 or more per year since Bush took office. That's $6,000 for one student over a four-year college career.
By comparison, how many computers does the average person buy in a four-year period? One? So, great, you just saved $200. And car prices aren't lower -- they're stable. What's lower is the monthly payment plans being offered -- how many offers have you seen recently promoting low monthly payments, with a huge balloon payment in month 48? That may get you into a car cheaply, but you pay eventually, either by having to finance that car buy over seven years (to cover the balloon) or by getting whacked when you trade the car in. And let's face facts: the reason so many automakers are offering these cut-rate deals is because the auto industry remains in a slump.
How about points three and four. Unemployment is 5.6%, which is higher than when Bush took office. And if you believe the critics and the studies they cite, the average person getting back into the workforce is earning at least 35% less than what they earned in their previous job. And a greater percentage of people finding jobs in this "recovery" are faced with the prospect of no health insurance in their new positions.
As for the stock market -- the New York Stock Exchange is hovering just over 10,000. It peaked at about 11,000 under Clinton. So the average person's stock holdings have decreased in value since Bush took office. Great recovery.
Back to USA Today's
•It ignores the economic recovery. Most measures of economic health, while below levels of the booming 1990s, have been heading upward. The economy has added an impressive 1.2 million jobs since January, inflation rose a modest 2% over the past year, and wages are picking up.
Economists will tell you that the economy needs to produce 175,000 jobs just to keep up with population growth. So in five months (June figures aren't out yet), that would equal 875,000 jobs. The Bush "recovery," with all the bells and whistles thrown into it to get it chugging, has barely outpaced that figure. And that's the best this economy has provided. Bush promised 6 million new jobs from his second tax cut stimulus package -- the one that came after 9/11 and after the dot-com crash. Even with the recent job creation, the nation has lost about 1 million jobs since that stimulus was passed -- putting Bush only 7 million jobs off the pace he promised.
Meanwhile, while inflation has been low under Bush, it was up 0.6% in May, and is on pace to be up significantly in 2004 (when compared with 2003) -- the effect of higher gas, milk, meat and other price increases. Wage growth may be picking up, but it's not keeping pace with what you would expect in a normal economic recovery.
•It overstates the nation's "misery ." The traditional misery index is a respectable 7.8% so far this year. That compares with a high of 20.6% in 1980 and a low of 6.1% in 1998. It has averaged 7.7% under Bush, lower than in any presidential term in the past 30 years, except for Bill Clinton's second.
Think about this statement -- Bush has done better than any president except Bill Clinton in his second term? So, things have gotten worse in the past four years! But Kerry is wrong to suggest that?
Kerry's supporters say his index taps into the anxiety average Americans feel. "If anything at all goes wrong — an illness or temporary layoff — most families can't pay the bills, and they risk everything they've built and saved for," the candidate said last week. Those fears are felt by many workers, particularly in the nation's industrial Midwest, where economic gains have been uneven. But they don't compare with the anxieties sparked by runaway inflation in the 1970s or worse recessions in the 1980s and early '90s.
So it's wrong for people to feel the economy is worse now than under Clinton's second term, and instead they should feel better because things are not as bad as they were in the 1970s?
If USA Today
-- or the conservatives it agrees with -- want to say the economy is getting better, that's a point to debate. I'm sure even Democrats would agree things are modestly better than a year ago or certainly after 9/11. But should we only look at this month's data, or 2004 data? Shouldn't we elect a president based on what was done over the entire presidency?
Bush-Cheney scold Kerry for looking backward instead of looking forward. They call him a pessimist, and portray Bush as an optimist.
The more accurate way to look at it is that Kerry is willing to acknowledge problems in the economy, and if elected, do something about those problems. Bush wants Americans to ignore their own economic interests, look the other way when their children's tuition rises or gas breaks $2/gallon, and passively agree with the administration that things are rosy.
I just have to believe the American people are smarter than that.