|Many years of monthly job graphs cobbled together|
Soon after George Bush was elected, I took over as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press. Each month I published a bar graph on the job figures from the US Department of Labor. These were increasing downward lines that became painfully routine bad news to reproduce. The jobs kept falling and falling, growing into dangerous length stalactites by 2008, the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The GOP presidential candidate, McCain, panicked and called for a freeze in the campaign. Obama went on in his solid way promising to handle crises.
The Bush falloff continued into the first year Obama took over as he launched such vital corrections as saving the auto industry and tightening financial controls – all in the face of harsh Republican resistance. Remember?
By 2010 the job graphs turned positive -- and every month grew ever grander above the median, like icicles defying gravity and suddenly thrusting upward. It may not be as dynamic today but it continues a strong positive uninterrupted pace, surviving Trump’s costly bailout of farmers in face of his tariffs and even a recession in US manufacturing, absorbed by financial circles since manufacturing is now only about 10% of the US economy.
When statistics sound rosy, every president claims economic success because of his or her actions -- just as they blame forces beyond their control if the job numbers fall.
While Obama deserves credit, his supporters sought to give him even more nice words than he richly deserved. Note that Americans increased productivity but stood pat for stagnant wages in a booming economy during his final term, so that an unhealthy side of the realm continues to this day.
Trump is taking credit for aspects that are way outside his doing – and may actually be surviving his interferences. Approving pipelines may look economically good from one angle, but the constant oil spills look terrible from an environmental point of view, which may have longer residue for the economy.
Similarly, the economy is strong enough to survive a range of failed concepts and aborted deals from the Trump administration – at least for now. A recent collaboration of Fortune magazine and Pro Publica news service also states Trump’s 2017 tax bill has cost homeowners, many of them middle class, $1 trillion in equity value.
Economists fear there is a payment coming due for our economic imbalance between profits and wages, though they blames cycles in the economy almost as much as Trump.
What is a change in historic civility and common sense is that Trump doesn’t want to admit what a great job picture he inherited from Obama. What even Michael Bloomberg doesn’t care to admit is that government strength and business acumen don’t walk hand in hand into the sunset.
Time teaches us that there are moments when presidents can proclaim enormous influence and times they are just lucky enough to be riding the waves – with the public praying they do nothing to capsize the ship of state. It’s clear that Trump right now is benefitting from that ride. The warning signs in the economy deal with hiccups, tariff wars, unhelpful tax relief and threats to the future we have no clue whether he can deal with – or even realize the causes. He has a school of followers swimming in his wake. They credit him way out of bounds from reality.
Let’s go way back to FDR. He also oversaw a time of enormous influence on the economy because the US needed it. Back then was a case of a president whose policies influenced the economy for the better. America longed for his fearlessness and optimism during the Great Depression.
Not everything he did lasted or worked. But the New Deal became part of American idealism and first principles of freedom – so much so that many respected intellectuals today argue that it needs to adjust but still serves as an inspiration. As should FDR’s optimism – that “only fear is fear itself” thing. His new emphasis on the worker, the creation of Social Security, watchful regulations on fiscal behavior and so forth became the moments that inspire history books.
Oh, you will still find Republicans like Mitch McConnell who claim that it was only World War II that rescued America from the Great Depression. But look who was still president and weigh how much his buoyancy had genuine impact on the intertwined forces of psyche and the economy.
Like Obama, FDR thought of himself as daring within the mainstream while his foes continue to demean his reign as radical extremism. Presidents always get extreme credit or blame for the nation’s fiscal health, but the reality is that sometimes they need to interfere and sometimes not.
And even good presidents are not seers on everything. In 2008 Obama was not a champion of gay marriage. He abandoned the individual mandate in health care to get the needed support for what he thought the more important parts of Obamacare. He put immigration reform on the back burner. Reparations for descendants of slaves were not even in the discussion.
Today he is for gay marriage, the individual mandate, the vitality of immigration reform and discussion of reparations – as are all the Democratic candidates for the office he once held. The last thing the nation needs – and also now has – is a president who interferes where not needed or interferes for his own venal causes, rather than the nation’s needs.
Obama’s rescue of the auto industry; his support of Dodd-Frank and other accomplishments that occupied his time of greatest power – the first two years – were vital thrusts. The better road for the economy he set is mainly something today’s executive could destroy – reminding voters that a president’s importance to the economy is mainly when it gets into trouble.