Not just wrong but harmful Wrong question, wrong time

Yesterday on Super Bowl Sunday, in a fit of pique, we lambasted the Wisconsin State Journal’s editorial of the day. We may have left the impression our principal complaint was the tone-deafness of such an editorial on America’s sacred wintertime blowout festival day of foodbawl and fun…

That was part of it.

Yes, the editorial was tone-deaf, but also, we asserted, it was “wrong”.  And yet wrongness isn’t even exactly at the heart of our objection either. It’s that the message was and is harmful, and not for the first time. The State Journal has been publishing variants of this same bad advice ever since conservatives pivoted from merrily building up the national debt (the Bush II years) to suddenly weeping and rending their garments at the thought of debt accruing during the Obama years. Literally, the pivot to new talking points began the very day that Obama put his hand on the Bible and ‘W’ flew off to Houston.

Now, there is a time for a nation to address its level of debt. The time for that is when the national economy is booming. Need it be said that “booming” does not describe the current American economy? There’s still plenty of slack. We are still struggling to get back to job and wage levels that existed before the housing/financial collapse of 2007.  We have lost somewhere around 5 trillion dollars of potential economic progress by letting people, equipment, talent and potential go unused.

All that scaremongering about debt and deficit since 2007 has been harmful. To the tune of trillions. Much of the scaremongering was a conscious political strategy by Senate and Congressional Republicans intending to prevent anything good from occurring on Barack Obama’s watch. And, of course, additional hand-wringing was provided in the usual peanut galleries and echo chambers. (This may describe the State Journal editorial page. There’s no way to see inside the motivations.)

In either case, millions of people have been hurt. We don’t ever like to say, “lives were ruined…” because is any life ever truly ruined? But bad results were widespread. How do you characterize it? Does losing a job when you’re 50 years old and never really finding another job “ruin” your life? [Note: none of this is self-descriptive… we are fortunate.] Let’s just say that a LOT of lives have been damaged. It shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t have lasted as long as it has.

We should have been rebuilding roads and bridges and mass transit. We should have been putting people back to work. The recession was the time for stimulus, and when the stimulus showed itself to be inadequate – and it did show that – exactly – then it was the time for more stimulus (yes, more debt… just like in the 1930’s), not more pulling back.

But of course fiscal stimulus was blocked whenever possible by the Republican congress. For political reasons nothing good for the middle- and lower-working classes would be allowed to happen on the Obama watch.

Even things that had long been in place — automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance and food stamps — came under conservative attack. Conservatives insisted on austerity, on fiscal ‘rectitude’, on fears about debt, on angst about “debasing the currency”, on balancing the budget, on trimming the social safety net, on “reforming entitlements”, on getting the unemployed out of their “hammocks”, on “encouraging the job-creators”, and on and on… a litany of strategies and slogans that were either useless or actively harmful in a time of recession.

Regular readers of the Wisconsin State Journal will recognize how often these terrible memes were repeated and reinforced on the editorial page.  The bad memes were handed out all during the great recession, and they were handed out yet again yesterday. For the umpteenth time.

We are exhausted and frustrated with this run of incompetence. There have been multiple natural experiments in the real world comparing Keynesian and austerian policies for rescuing capitalist democracies from economic bubble-deflations. If the State Journal is going to weigh in on this kind issue, they need to study up and get right.


In a sense, it’s a “fantastic” editorial

Always remember to prepare yourself (rubber gloves and a clothes-pin) before glancing at the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page. The thing is, they’re not always wrong (who could be?), but when they’re wrong, they can seem to be writing from another planet where important pieces of news haven’t yet arrived.

Consider this one, on the subject of Obamacare. This baleful effort posits that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) ain’t perfect (true enough). So what stands in the way of improving it? For the State Journal, the answer is always the same. It’s those two political parties. Both of ’em, equally. Why don’t they meet somewhere in the “sensible center”™?

Some Republicans and Democrats are digging in for a political standoff…

The 173-member House Republican Study Committee is committed to repeal of Obamacare, disdaining the idea of fixing it. Meanwhile, Democratic rhetoric focuses on defending Obamacare against all criticism…

Good grief. What would it mean to work together here? Where would discussion begin? The GOP (as the editorial noted) is demanding outright repeal of the whole hard-won thing. It’s really nonsense to suggest that the Republicans will discuss tweaking the ACA to produce actual improvements. All the evidence is that they want it to go down in flames.

House Republicans have now voted 40 times to abolish/defund the ACA. Once or twice might have been semi-normal symbolism, a bit of political grandstanding, but at 40 times — each time guaranteed, in advance, to be futile — it’s become a kind of bizarre and repetitive ritual performance art. This is a party with an overabundance of oddballs and zealots.

Hatred for the ACA is now a standard doctrine within the GOP. Gov. Romney promised he would ‘End Obamacare’ (on his first day in office!) and he really did need to make that promise in order to win nomination, even though Obamacare looks a heck of a lot like Romneycare in Massachusetts. In fact, Obamacare looks a lot like ideas that used to come out of the Heritage Foundation. Still, the Republicans now just hate, hate, hate it. A kind of inchoate rage boils within the Republican Party about this, so the very last thing they want to do is sit down and discuss improvements.

They’re threatening government shutdown.

They’re offering crazy-talk about forcing another downgrade of US debt unless President Obama weirdly agrees to somehow end/kill/renounce it (headline: “Obama renounces Obamacare”?). As Politico warns, one of these times, the Money wing of the party may not be able to overrule the Tea Party wing.

There has always been a lunatic fringe in our politics, and they do no great harm as long as they remain a “fringe”, but now they compose an important wing of the GOP. The same thing has not occurred in the Democratic Party. It’s time for the State Journal to notice. If the State Journal could just do that, it would work in their favor, and everybody’s, really.


Wisconsin State Journal again offers only confusion on the debt

For some strange reason, whenever the State Journal editorializes about the federal debt, it’s almost exactly like Republican spin. Today, of course, was no exception. They’re demanding seriousness from the Dems at their national convention. That would be okay, but we’d rather just see honesty all around.

We don’t think debt is our current number one problem. We actually need more spending to stimulate job growth and demand for business. We should be building and repairing now while borrowing costs are low. We need jobs, jobs, jobs. But let’s put that aside and focus on the debt.

What’s causing the debt? Let’s look again at this graph.

Note first that the graph begins at a low point in 2001. In 2001 we weren’t adding to the debt, because the Clinton years succeeded in balancing the budget.

Then George W. Bush and the Republicans took over. They promptly set us back on the path of more and more debt. Note the orange swath at the top. The Bush-era tax cuts are THE biggest factor driving increasing federal debt, now and in the future.  Really, nearly everything in the graph — tax cuts, wars, the recession, and measures to fight the recession — were Bush-era policies enthusiastically supported by Republicans (yes, including  Paul Ryan).

So the Republicans were merrily — really, merrily — adding to the debt until approximately the day Barack Obama became President. And then, the Republicans turned on a dime and began their public hysterics over debt. Naturally the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board did the same.

Now you might think that a good way to reduce the debt would be to examine what’s causing it and then stop doing that. This would first mean getting rid of the Bush era tax cuts.

Simple? Well, it would be a big start. But as everyone knows, the Republicans won’t have it. They won’t allow it. They can’t. Getting rid of the Bush tax cuts, would be a “tax increase,” and the Republicans are simply intransigent. They’ve signed pledges to Grover Norquist. If they vote for any kind of tax increase, the Club for Growth and a dozen other well-funded groups will fund their opponents in the next Republican primary.

So all kinds of reasonable compromise has been blocked. And we use the word reasonable intentionally. We don’t think you can look at the graph above, and “reasonably” say, “we want to attack the debt, but the Bush-era tax cuts must continue.”

But that’s the Republican message. Serious people should not take it seriously.

Are you listening, WSJ editorial board?