“We’re upbeat about the chances for our fellow citizens who are looking for work to be able to find a job. I firmly believe that what we have done was the absolute right course of action in order to help people find a job.” Thus says President Bush about the tax cuts he promoted earlier this year. The question he didn’t answer: whether the nation will have as many jobs when he faces reelection as it did when he took office. (See Washington Post article.) At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the economy has lost 2.6 million payroll jobs since Bush took office in January 2001, the worst employment record under any president since Herbert Hoover. (See Seattle Times article.)
The president’s announcement came after a meeting with his closest economic advisors at his Crawford, Texas ranch. As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert opines,
Talk about preaching to the choir. President Bush and his clueless team of economic advisers held a summit at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Tex., yesterday. This is the ferociously irresponsible crowd that has turned its back on simple arithmetic and thinks the answer to every economic question is a gigantic tax cut for the rich. Their voodoo fantasies were safe in Crawford. There was no one at the ranch to chastise them for bequeathing backbreaking budget deficits to generations yet unborn. And no one was there to confront them with evidence of the intense suffering that so many poor, working-class and middle-class families are experiencing right now because of job losses on Mr. Bush’s watch.
(See New York Times op-ed.)
Sure enough, Bush’s economic advisors had only good news to share. Gregory Mankiw, the chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, said he expects economic growth to accelerate to a 3.7 percent annual rate by the end of the year, leading to job growth early next year. (See Seattle Times article.) Mankiw was joined at the ranch with other summit participants including Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Not all economists share Mankiw’s optimism, however. Herbert’s article quotes George Akerlof, a U.C. Berkeley professor and the 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, who declared last week that “the Bush fiscal policy is the worst policy in the last 200 years. Within 10 years, we’re going to pay a serious price for such irresponsibility.” Another key economist echoed Akerlof’s pessimism. Robert Solow, an economist and professor emeritus at M.I.T., also a Nobel laureate, attached the Bush tax cuts as “redistributive in intent and redistributive in effect. There has been a dissipation of the huge budget surplus,” he said, “and all we have to show for that is the city of Baghdad.” (See New York Times op-ed.)
Many workers’ holiday seasons will be much happier if there is an economic turnaround well before Mankiw’s prediction of early next year. And if things don’t turn around soon, President Bush is going to have to start worrying about getting votes from the vast number of unemployed workers. As the Post article points out, “Republican strategists acknowledge [the President’s] reelection could be imperiled if a recovery fizzles and voters believe he could have done more to put people back to work.” (See Washington Post article.) Bush and his closest advisors are unlikely to forget the hard lesson learned by President Bush’s father back in 1992, when “voters dissatisfied with the economy denied a second term to Bush’s father.” (See Seattle Times article.)
There are some signs that this economic-related backlash may be starting to happen. In Republican stronghold South Carolina, where Bush outpolled his opponent Al Gore by a 2-to-1 ratio back in 2000, registered Republican voters are beginning to grumble. Lynn Mayson, an unemployed machine operator and mother of three from Greenville, South Carolina, was frustrated upon leaving a state-run jobs center. “Something’s got to give. I’m not going to vote for Bush unless things change. The economy has got to get better, and it’s only going to do that if someone makes something happen.” (See New York Times article.)
As Roy Baxley, chairman of the South Carolina Cotton Board, pointed out, “This is an excellent opportunity for any elected official to base their campaign on jobs. This is the time to step up to the plate.” Who will do so? Will it be President Bush, or will a Democratic contender emerge from the pack to provide real solutions for unemployed workers? The outcome of the next presidential election could depend on it.