All big elections are about two issues, peace and prosperity. A year ago, the Iraq War was issue number one for the Democrats. Then it started to go well. Scratch Iraq from the front burner.
The big issue now is the economy and what party is best prepared to improve it. That has led to a little rhetorical exercise that goes something like this:
A liberal politician or media pundit claims that the economy is in recession. Their Republican counterpart disputes this, whereupon the aforementioned commentator or candidate promptly attacks the Republicans for being heartless, callous and out of touch.
So ingrained is this little catechism that even the Republicans recite it. When Phil Gramm, the brilliant former senator and McCain advisor, said that the recession was mostly in the minds of those who are counting on things getting worse for political reasons, John McCain himself stiff-armed Gramm, saying that if Gramm had joined him at his town hall appearances around the country, he would know that good people are hurting badly just about everywhere.
Yes, things are worse than a year ago. But are we really in a recession? This is not a mere matter of opinion. An economic recession actually has a clearly defined meaning. If the economy has negative growth (if it shrinks) for two consecutive quarters, it is considered to be in recession.
So are we in one? No. There hasn’t been one quarter of negative growth, let alone two consecutive ones in the last five years. Growth is sluggish, but it hasn’t sunk to the status of a recession. But point this out and you too will be accused of not caring about people.
It’s more than a little ironic that these roles were reversed in 2001. The Republicans had come to power just after the hi-tech bubble had burst, the NASDAQ was tanking, people were losing jobs and pension funds were losing equity. When members of the Bush Administration wondered out loud whether we were headed for a recession, the Democrats heatedly accused them of “talking down the economy,” a chorus they are now singing themselves.
Perhaps the Republicans should join in.
Instead of denying that we’re in a recession, Republican candidates and commentators should concede the point. They should then point out that for the first time since Chris Gregoire became governor, the state unemployment rate now equals the national unemployment rate – 5.5 percent. When the state unemployment rate was about 4 percent, the Gregoire administration happily took the credit. Let her now take some blame.
Keep in mind that it is Gregoire’s party that insists that we’re in a recession. Since Washington’s unemployment rate is now growing faster than the national rate, we can presume that spending, taxing and regulatory policies in Olympia must be contributing to this trend. And so, let us try and weather these economic storm clouds and endure the “Gregoire Recession.” And if any of her supporters claim that such a charge is unfair and unfounded, the Republicans should attack them for being heartless, callous and out of touch. Reading a party’s talking points back to them can do wonders to enliven a political contest.
John Carlson hosts a daily radio program with KOMO 4’s Ken Schram each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on AM 570 KVI. He also broadcasts daily radio commentary on KOMO 1000 news. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.