The standard Republican talking point on the economy is that things may be better than they were when President Obama first took office, but they’re just not good enough. It’s at least the basis for a grown-up conversation – we can talk about why conditions haven’t improved faster, just so long as we agree that conditions in June 2015 are vastly improved from January 2009.
But once in a great while, a Republican will forget the standard talking points and veer into ridiculous territory. In 2012, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said President Obama made the economy “worse.” No sane person could believe that.
A similar argument came up yesterday. Fox News’ Neil Cavuto talked to former Gov. Jeb Bush, and the host paraphrased some recent comments from Obama. “The president, real quickly, sir, had said today, ‘Take a look at what has happened under my stewardship. Jobs are booming. The economy is better. Look what I inherited. Look where things stand.’ I think he was talking about your brother and saying, ‘We are now the most respected country on Earth.’”
The Florida Republican seemed to find the very idea absurd.
“Yeah, I saw that interview. It’s breathtaking. It’s like our president is living in an alternative universe. Median income is down in the sixth year of the recovery. Disposable income for families is down. Workforce participation rate is lower than it was 30 years ago.“People just have given up. And he’s saying that things are better. You know, look, it’s just not true.”
Bush’s aides liked the exchange so much, they put the whole thing on YouTube.
The problem, of course, is that the GOP candidate would have been better off sticking to the usual party line, because denying that “things are better” is ridiculous.
It’s true that wages have lagged, even as conditions have improved, but as important a metric as this is, it’s not proof of an economy that’s worse than it was six years ago. Indeed, Bush himself referenced “the sixth year of the recovery.” What does he think that means? The “recovery” from what?
In reality, that would be the recovery from the Great Recession that his brother left for President Obama to clean up.
Jeb also referenced the workforce participation rate, though I get the feeling he doesn’t know what that is. That rate combines all of the Americans with jobs, adds those currently looking for jobs, and divides the total by the size of the population. The labor-force participation rate has been declining steadily for over a decade – including for much of the Bush/Cheney era – largely as a result of the growing population of seniors retiring and leaving the workforce.
I suppose it’s possible that Jeb Bush simply doesn’t remember the economic conditions of late 2008 and early 2009. So let’s remind him: the economy was in freefall. The job market was shedding literally hundreds of thousands of jobs per month. GDP collapsed. So did the stock market. Economic confidence disappeared entirely as panic set in. Entire sectors of the economy, including the auto industry, were on the verge of complete collapse.
President Obama took office amidst all of this, implemented his economic agenda, and ended the crisis. With literally no assistance from congressional Republicans, the White House and Democratic lawmakers got the economy growing again, produced a sustained jobs boom, restored economic confidence, and even rescued the American auto industry, the backbone of the nation’s manufacturing sector.
Despite all of these obvious truths, Jeb Bush believes one has to live in an “alternative universe” to believe “things are better” than they were.
This is simply bonkers. Ask any 1,000 people whether they’d trade today’s economy for the one Americans faced on Jan. 19, 2009. About 990 would say no, and the other 10 probably didn’t understand the question.
Someone in this debate appears to be “living in an alternative universe,” but it’s not the president.