Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Campaigning to be our next Hoover

    "Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement."

     Hands now: How many of you wish that voters had taken President Herbert Hoover up on the words above, shared with Congress in 1930?

     Matters would become so bleak, that depression earning a capital D, that Hoover's Republican predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, professed "nothing to give ground to hope — nothing of man."

   Then came hope in the form of a man with useless legs but no other signs of resignation.

   Yes. Hope. It was what Franklin Roosevelt brought to American kitchen tables. A few generations later amid dire economic times, "hope" was candidate Barack Obama's catchword.

    Hope. I've seen the "Dope" bumper stickers. Slick. "Hopey Changey." Cute.

    And yet: Take a look around. How hopeful would the nation be now if voters had handed this economy in 2008 to another Hoover?

   The economy is growing again. Last year it added 1.9 million private-sector jobs. That "private-sector" modifier is pertinent, because under Obama's predecessor the most prodigious job creator was war and its wares. (Bush became the first president in history to have the growth of government-sector jobs outpace private-sector job growth. Under Obama the federal workforce has declined by 280,000. )

     Mitt Romney calls Obama a "jobs killer." Actually, most of the jobs lost under Obama disappeared in his first year in office.

     And Obama was left with the assignment: Do something.

     His predecessor had stepped on the debt pedal to finance two wars and rounds of unnecessary, ineffectual across-the-board tax cuts. Then — hmmm — the economy tanked. Trickle-down magic, it was.

    Before Obama grabbed the firehose for stimulus measures that many economists called too little, too late, Bush had already turned the spigot, authorizing $1.6 trillion in stimulus spending.

     The nation, and its new president, were dug into a deep hole, fiscally and financially.

     Now, let's imagine — and this will take some imagining — that today's tea party stalwarts awoke in 2007 and rose to oppose the debt monster when a Republican administration was stoking without a care. Let's say today's no-spending, no-matter-what, do-nothing Congress arrived four years early. What would the government have been able to do to address the economic death spiral of 2008?

    Uh, nothing.

    Would the tea party and its newbies in Congress have thwarted any attempt to stimulate the economy and to avoid what many warned was the beginnings of a second Great Depression? You can bet your "Who But Hoover?" campaign button they would have.

    I'm not sure any of us wants to imagine where the economy, and the state of job creation, would be now if that were the case.

     Obama pushed initiatives to invest in infrastructure and schools to help the economy. He also engineered a deathbed triage for the auto industry — something that not only salvaged automakers but also its domestic web of suppliers.

    "Socialism," cried the fiscal fundamentalists. Rest assured, they would have denounced Obama the same if he'd let the industry dry up and drift overseas.

    Oh, and the loans to automakers have been paid back. And, while we're talking about self-financing matters, how about the way that Iraq oil money paid for the war we waged in 2003?

     Back to the Depression: I'm thinking about how the tea party types would have contested Roosevelt's creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, and how much poorer the nation would have been if so impaired. It didn't happen.

    Three years ago this nation came very close to experiencing the hopeless days that left millions in despair and made Hoover a pariah.

    These days are not so hopeless, unless you get your history on a bumper sticker.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.  

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