The Eternal Return of Economic Arguments

Seth Masket points out one more reason to be worried about the 2012 election:

It seems fair to say that the economy will not be roaring again any time soon, meaning that Obama will at best win by a squeaker. If it dips back into recession, he's toast. Most likely, it will end up just being a really competitive and interesting race on par with 2004.

The party occupying the White House when the economy does finally start booming will get the credit among the public for saving the country. It doesn't matter so much who was in power when the recession hit or whose policies helped or hurt the recovery. To a large extent, it's simply a matter of being in the Oval Office at the right time.

It is indeed horrifying to imagine the day when the economy is finally humming again, and President Perry tells us, "See? You elected me, and we're back on track. So let's not hear about this Keynes idiot anymore." Nevertheless, I don't think the national conversation is going to be too different either way. Republicans are remarkably consistent in how they talk about the economy, no matter what actually occurs. For example: In 1993 they said, loudly and clearly, that if Bill Clinton's budget with its top-rate income tax increase passed, the result would be a "job-killing recession." It did pass, and 23 million jobs were created over the next eight years. In 2001, they said, loudly and clearly, that if we passed George W. Bush's tax cuts rolling back those increases and cutting other taxes further, the economy would explode with job-creating growth. Over the following eight years, only 3 million jobs were created. The relative success of Clinton and Bush didn't change the arguments they make about taxes one iota.

To my mind, Democrats don't shove this in their faces nearly often enough. They could win almost any debate with their opponents by saying, "We had two tests of my Republican friend's economic theories in the last two decades. They were called the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. And they both proved him wrong." But in any case, if Barack Obama is re-elected, it isn't as thought Republicans are going to change their tune once the economy recovers. They'll say the same thing whether he's in the White House when it happens or whether it's a Republican. In the debate that ensues, the media will dutifully report both sides. And we'll have this same argument -- with Republicans arguing that top-end tax cuts will set the economy right, make our children taller, and whiten our teeth, while Democrats respond, "Um, there's really no evidence for that" -- for the rest of our lives.