It was somewhere between hilarious and pathetic to watch Republicans respond to the positive jobs report last Friday. Some friends and I were counting the minutes until some Republican started casting aspersions on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which compiles and releases the data. Sure enough, by early Friday afternoon, Tea Party Congressman Allen West was saying (on the basis of no evidence of course) that “Americans need truth, not these number games.” West’s comment suggests a desperation that will spread if future reports are as good as last week’s, which raises the question of what the Republicans will do next to try to wreck the economy.
I know, one isn’t supposed to talk like this. I know, it’s evil to suggest that politicians would put their electoral fate this fall ahead of the conditions of the people. And, I know, it’s just . . . ooooh, it’s so mean!
But the record shows clearly that all the Republican Party can do is destroy. First, Republicans destroyed the economy. We don’t speak much these days of George W. Bush, which I’ve always felt, from January 2009, was a big tactical error on the Democrats’ part. They should have been doing with Bush all this time what the Republicans did with Jimmy Carter. He was as bad a president. Actually worse. In terms of job creation, far, far worse. Check it out—Carter’s job-creation record was in fact rather enviable. So they spent eight years taking the humming economy they inherited and asphyxiating it. Bush handed Obama three huge messes—the biggest meltdown in 80 years, plus Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then Obama tries to clean up mess number one, and they do everything they can to block every step he’s taken. It’s worked pretty well for them politically because the jobless rate has been high, and as long as that was the case, they could say no, choosing whatever weapon was handy and wagging their collective finger at the president.
But what do they do now? What if the economy keeps creating 200,000-plus jobs a month? Economists, a pessimistic lot by training and nature, are now rethinking their pessimism. Just two weeks before the jobs numbers came out, the Congressional Budget Office released a report (PDF) showing, under one scenario, that unemployment would be 8.9 percent this fall and still higher in the last quarter of 2013, at 9.2 percent. These numbers received a massive amount of attention, as they fed the trouble-for-Obama story line that will yield the close election that political reporters are desperate to have. The report sent every Democrat in Washington into a funk.
But for now anyway, it’s looking as if these CBO numbers, found in a chart on page 30 at the link above if you’re interested, might turn out to be the worst prediction of 2012. After the jobs numbers came out last Friday, James Bullard, head of the St. Louis Fed, said that the Fed’s own unemployment projections—lower than the CBO’s, but still between 8.2 percent and 8.5 percent at the end of this year—now seemed too high to him, and that “sub-8 percent is a reasonable prediction.”
If the February numbers come in resembling the January ones, the whole collective psyche will change for the better, and the story line will be one of definite rebound. What will the Republicans do then? Rhetorically, they’ll feed us more of what Mitt Romney dished out Saturday night in his Nevada victory speech: “This week [Obama is] trying to take a bow for 8.3 percent unemployment. Not so fast, Mr. President. We welcome any good news on the jobs front. But it is thanks to the innovation of the American people in the private sector and not to you, Mr. President.” So Obama gets the blame when the unemployment is north of 9 percent but not the credit when it drops. Sure, guys. Keep using that one.
And the Allen West line will gather steam. The talk-radio right will start to lay into the BLS and try to discredit it. They go out and interview 60,000 households every month (plus more—read about the methodology here). They do not cook numbers. But reality never made any difference to these people anyway.
What’s more worrisome is what the Republicans on Capitol Hill will do in policy terms to try to blunt the recovery. They’re doing little things as they can manage them. Last week, the House Budget Committee approved a bill that would inflate the cost of federal programs. But what about the big things? Let’s watch what happens on the payroll tax-decrease extension the White House wants. The current reduction expires February 29. It would not exactly shock me to see Republicans start throwing new poison pills into the final negotiations.
Why? On the same “the sky is green and the grass is blue” logic that dominates today’s GOP on virtually all matters. They say publicly, as Senator Jon Kyl does in this clip, that the reduction has not had a stimulative effect. They must know that that is preposterous. Putting $1,000 back in the pocket of your average $50,000 wage earner is, economists agree, money she is likely to spend, and spent dollars are by definition stimulative dollars. They know full well that the stimulative effect of the reduction creates jobs, too. Will they really be so blatant as to try to kill it?
There are decent and honorable individual Republicans. Probably many of them. I even know some. But as a collective entity—as a party and a movement that includes the media wing and the base that boos a gay soldier at a debate and cheers executions—they are toxic destroyers, their minds infected by the idea that any cooperation with the president for the sake of the country is the moral equivalent of Munich (yes, with all that analogy implies). They will do anything. Nothing could be more just than to see a surprisingly low unemployment rate come November, with Republicans still insisting that black is white and that governance equals capitulation, and the public rewarding them accordingly.