The silver lining: Maybe at last we can finally retire that awful
phrase that has been flapping its way through the newspaper headlines
since the Clinton campaign of 1992, "It's the economy, stupid."
No, it's not the economy, stupid. If it were the economy, stupid, then
House Speaker Dennis Hastert would be yielding his chair to Dick
Gephardt, and George Bush would be deluged in rotten cabbages every time he
appeared in public.
The economy, stupid? Let's take a look.
The markets? Down, down, down. During Bush's term, the Dow has gone
from 10,578.20 on Jan. 22, 2001, to 8,397.03 on Oct. 31, 2002 -- a
decline of 20.6 percent. Unemployment? Up, up, up. January 2001 to October
2002, nonfarm payrolls have fallen by 1.49 million, as the jobless rate
has jumped in Bush's term from 4.2 percent to 5.7.
Basic economic indicators? Teetering between indifferent and
terrifying. Gross domestic product, which averaged a 3.1 percent annual growth
rate in the first seven quarters under Clinton, compared with a 1.4
percent average in the same period under Bush.
In the second quarter alone, pension wealth fell by over $469 billion,
or 5.3 percent. Housing prices cushioned the blow a little but still
left a net decline in wealth of 3.4 percent in one quarter, with its
successor shaping up to be just as bad. It looks as though the boom in
house prices has topped out. Oil prices are up 40 percent since the start
of the year. The telecommunication industry is on its ass, and it will
take a very long time to crawl back from overcapacity in the 90 percent
range. The airline industry is on life support.
The official rate of profit on capital stock in the non-financial
corporate sector as a whole is now is at its lowest level of the post-war
period (except for 1980 and 1982).
A recession? Most assuredly. Prospects of long-term economic doldrums? Near certain.
OK. So not only do we have an economy slowly flapping its way to the
bottom of the fishtank, we have two men in the White House who, scarcely
two months ago, were hiding out in some subterranean war room in the
Appalachians, hoping to dodge subpoenas on account of their shady
business conduct, even as all their buddies at Enron were striking to make
deals with the Justice Department.
It's true. Bush's Harken antics make the Clintons' involvement in
Whitewater look like the pitiful little failed real estate deal that it
was. Here we have a rich mine of corruption and insider dealing featuring
such highlights as the Harvard endowment bailing out Junior at the
behest of a Texas oilman. We have officials in the administration of Bush
Sr., tearing up SEC rules to save the ass of the president's son. We
have... well, you know the story.
And Cheney? As bad, if not worse, in terms of self-enrichment at the
expense of the public investors in Halliburton.
This was the economic and scandal-stained backdrop to the midterm
So, what happened? The public said, "Sure, the economy doesn't look
good, but we're not stupid. The economy's sagging, but you can't blame
the whole of the '90s on George Bush. Gives us till 2004, and we'll tell
you what we think then."
The problem is, the Democrats have no credibility because they haven't
earned any. No one believes they have an economic strategy, and as we
hunker down amidst the rubble of the bubble, we can ask, what were the
Democrats doing as that same '90s bubble swelled? Led by Senator Joe
Lieberman they destroyed the regulatory apparatus put in place in the
'30s, after the '20s bubble, and burst into ecstatic applause every time
the federal watchdog of the markets, Alan Greenspan, ambled along to the
Hill to tell everyone what a fine job he'd been doing.
On top of all that, we've had the war whoop against Saddam Hussein. It
has not been popular. A majority of Americans appear to believe that
it's not a particularly good idea to trash Iraq, even though it would be
fun to see Saddam Hussein swinging from a lamppost. Aside from Tony
Blair, the world is against it. Closer to home, the Joint Chiefs are
All the same, the whooping worked. It changed the subject from the
economy and Harken and Halliburton. It got the Democrats rearing and
plunging till Gephardt panicked and rushed to the White House to enlist in
the great Crusade. My bet is now that the war fever will subside, not
least because George Bush can count yet another triumph after his brave
assists to President-elect Lula in Brazil and Gerhard Schroeder in
Germany. His warmongering has handed the Islamic Party a great victory in
The Democrats are a party of ghosts and revenants, not the most
convincing battalion to put against the party of property and oil, of
fundamentalist Christians now in coalition with warmongering Jewish neocons,
which is, of course, the big political story of the season.
© 2002 Creators Syndicate