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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

August 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM

The Republicans’ economic challenge

In 1932, with the Great Depression at its worst, the Republicans lost the White House and didn’t win it back again for 20 years. The GOP ran a reactionary platform against FDR in 1936 and, even with the economy still ailing, was crushed. When the party regained the presidency, it was with Dwight Eisenhower, who famously wrote, “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Fast forward. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression produced a huge anti-GOP vote in 2008, even though the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama was inexperienced and largely untested. But thanks to the Tea Party, Republicans bounced back strongly two years later. Now the party has a good chance to retake the White House this year.

Now, the GOP base is ultra-solid. Mitt Romney leads President Obama among white voters by an astonishing 55 percent to 39 percent. Maybe this is enough, especially when bolstered by super PAC money and lies such as the one that claims Mr. Obama has loosened welfare requirements. But for the reality-based community, Republicans face a challenge running on the economy as they gather for their convention in Tampa.

The economic challenge is this: The GOP is essentially running on a platform that would be George W. Bush’s policies on steroids. Yet we already know that the biggest causes of the Great Recession and its lingering pain were the very deregulation and financialization of the economy that the Republicans promise to double-down on. As for the federal deficit and rising debt, Mr. Bush inherited a surplus and turned it into the red with wars, tax cuts heavily tilted to the wealthy, Medicare D that was unfunded and didn’t require Big Pharma to bid for the lowest prices, and the costs of the recession. The 2000s were a lost decade for the middle class.

Not only that, but the Republican standard bearer represents a finance capitalism at odds with working people and small business, and the party is running on issues very much like the ones Ike cautioned against

So what’s different from the 2000s? What has been learned from the policies that led us into this crisis? Anything? Or is the economic meme simply going to be that Mr. Bush was insufficiently “conservative,” the crash was caused by Freddie and Fannie and minorities getting liar loans, and Mr. Obama’s “socialism” has made everything worse? If so, the bet will be that enough voters today have a much shorter memory than their counterparts after the Depression. Otherwise, if Mr. Romney triumphs, the reasons will not be economic.

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Comments | More in Campaign 2012, Politics and the economy


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