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  • November 25, 2015
    Will Republicans Use Romney's "Jewish Test" for Syrian Refugees?

    In the aftermath of the Paris slaughter perpetrated by French and Belgian nationals, the GOP's best and brightest are waging an incendiary rhetorical crusade to prevent 10,000 Syrian refugees from joining the roughly 2,300 already here. Among the 2016 GOP presidential field, Donald Trump declared his support for a database to track Muslims. Marco Rubio and Ben Carson compared the refugees to Nazis and "rabid dogs," respectively. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush called for a religious test to allow only Christians fleeing the Syrian civil war into the United States. And even as Ohio Governor John Kasich was briefly advocating the creation of a new federal agency to promote "Judeo-Christian" values, one Tennessee GOP lawmaker proclaimed he wants to round up those Syrians emigres already in his state.

    As it turns out, the GOP's last two presidential nominees are just saying no as well. While John McCain lamented, "'Our hearts go out to them, but we can't endanger the security of the United States of America," Mitt Romney declared:

    "The West must stop the insanity of welcoming hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East without knowing who exactly they are. Women, children and the elderly, perhaps, but not thousands upon thousands of single young men."

    Sadly for the factually-challenged Romney, we know a great deal about the hundreds of overwhelmingly Muslim, mostly women and children who wait 18 to 24 months to be resettled into the United States. Even more appalling is that during his 2012 presidential campaign, Team Romney announced its own rule for evaluating another religious minority group in America, Mitt's own Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

    As Jason Horowitz explained the Jewish Test for the Washington Post in June 2012, "Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has developed a simple method to determine whether coverage of the candidate's Mormonism has crossed a line":

    "Our test to see if a similar story would be written about others' religion is to substitute 'Jew' or 'Jewish,' " Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul wrote in objection to a Washington Post article last fall about the candidate's role as a church leader in Boston.

    She pointed out a passage that explained a central tenet of Mormonism. It described the belief that Christ's true church was restored after centuries of apostasy when the 19th-century prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates that he discovered in Upstate New York.

    "Would you write this sentence in describing the Jewish faith?" Saul asked in a November e-mail, adding: " 'Jews believe their prophet Moses was delivered tablets on a mountain top directly from G-d after he appeared to him in a burning bush.' Of course not, yet you reference a similar story in Mormonism."

    Fast forward three years to the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2012 Republican "Jewish Test" has vanished. Vanished, that is, except for many American Jews themselves.

    Take, for example, the Anti-Defamation League. ADL had joined with 40 other North American Jewish organizations spanning the political spectrum to form the Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees. Given the shameful history of the United States in rejecting Jewish refugees before, during and after World War II, it's no surprise ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was quick to denounce governors declaring their intention to keep the Syrians emigres out:

    This country must not give into fear or bias by turning its back on our nation's fundamental commitment to refugee protection and human rights. Now is precisely the time to stand up for our core values, including that we are a proud nation of immigrants. To do otherwise signals to the terrorists that they are winning the battle against democracy and freedom.

    The current refugee crisis in Europe is the worst since World War II. The Jewish community is particularly affected by the images of men, women and children forced to flee their homes only to find they are unwanted anyplace else. Many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who perpetrated the horrendous attacks on Paris.

    The United States Holocaust Museum similarly concurred that the analogy to the Jewish experience is a fair one.

    "Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis.

    "While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees. The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today's refugees as a group. It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity."

    Though the crises of European Jewry and Syrian Muslim refugees are not identical in kind and degree, the parallels are too disturbing to ignore. A Gallup poll in 1938 showed that two-thirds of Americans did not want to admit Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. The next year, 61 percent similarly said no to the relocation of 10,000 Jewish children from Germany to the United States. Now, despite the five million (or more) Muslim-Americans in the U.S., recent polling suggests "there is a growing sentiment that the Muslims who live here stand "at odds" with the American way of life."

    According to polling data released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority -- 56 percent -- of Americans say Islamic values are at odds with American values. Among people who identify as Christian or Republican, the number is even higher -- 76 percent of Republicans say Islam is at odds with America, while over 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, and Catholics say the same. Even among Democrats, only 52 percent disagreed that Islam was incompatible with American values. Forty-three percent agreed.

    As Lee Fang documented for The Intercept, the pre-Holocaust rhetoric of many isolationist Republicans was rife with vicious anti-Semitic and anti-refugee canards now repackaged for the 21st century. GOP and nativist activists warned of the "insidious poison" from the "so-called Jewish refugees from Germany." Grotesque stereotypes about "refu-Jews" and "Yidisher Refugees" and "Refugees Kikes" warned that those fleeing Hitler were either a Nazi "fifth column" or Communists part of an "invisible government":

    "Under these lax regulations, many Communists are coming to this country to join the ranks of those who hate our institutions and want to over throw them."

    Then as now, many Americans--and not just conservatives--warned of an "alien menace" and "extreme radicals." Which is why America's faith leaders, if not its politicians, are now at the forefront leading the calls for tolerance and acceptance of largely Muslim refugees simply hoping to escape the carnage of ISIS and the Syrian civil war. As Peter Shulman, a historian at Case Western Reserve University explained:

    "The situations are not exactly parallel and I'm not saying that they are. But in terms of a heavily politicized, nativist response to a refugee crisis, we have been here before. And the example of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe in the late '30s is most poignant because we know how it ended."

    That's why America's faith leaders, if not its politicians, are at the forefront of the call to accept and support the Syrian refugees already in American and those still to come. Sadly, they don't have their flocks with them (at least not yet), which means that Muslims in America will continue to be objectified. As Dalia Mogahed, an expert of Muslim attitudes in the U.S. and internationally lamented after the Paris attacks, "to be suspected of doing something so monstrous, simply because of your faith, seems very unfair."

    Mitt Romney should be able to sympathize with that view. Asked in 2011 about the Mormon position on homosexuality as a sin, Romney responded:

    "I'm not a spokesman for my church. And one thing I'm not going to do in running for president is become a spokesman for my church or apply a religious test that is simply forbidden by the constitution, I'm not going there. If you want to learn about my church, talk to my church."

    But for the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls, the double-standard has hardened as the question of Syrian refugees heats up. When NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked what she thought Donald Trump should do or read to better understand Islam, Mogahed replied:

    "I don't want him to understand Islam. I want him to understand the Constitution."

    That same day, a group of protesters armed with AR-15 rifles and other weapons descended upon the Islamic Center of Irving, Texas. Writing at Daily Kos, David Harris Gershon offered this familiar thought exercise:

    "If heavily armed, masked men 'protested' outside a church or synagogue, it would be national news."

    Indeed it would. And Republicans presidential candidates past and present would demand we "stop the insanity."

    Perrspective 8:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    November 23, 2015
    Before Syrian Refugees, America Welcomed Massive Iranian Influx

    In the wake of the attacks in Paris apparently carried out by French and Belgian nationals, Republican leaders and a majority of the American people now stand against accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees. While the GOP-controlled House pass legislation erecting new roadblocks to those fleeing the sectarian carnage in Syria, 26 governors (almost all of them Republican) announced they would try to block their entry into their states. Among the 2016 GOP presidential field, Donald Trump declared his support for a database to track Muslims, while Marco Rubio and Ben Carson compared the refugees to Nazis and "rabid dogs," respectively. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush called for a religious test to allow only Christians fleeing the Syrian civil war into the United States. And while one Republican Congressman sneered that the refugees were only coming here for a "paid vacation," a Tennessee GOP lawmaker wants to round up those already in his state.

    But once upon a time, the United States accepted hundreds of thousands of people fleeing a country where then as now some chanted "Death to America." That country would be Iran. During the very years when the Shah was deposed, Ayatollah Khomeini declared his Islamic Republic of Iran Americans were held hostage in Tehran for 444 days and the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein, Iranian exiles, refugees and asylum seekers flocked to the United States. And over the past few decades, they have become one of the greatest American immigration stories of all.

    As the Migration Policy Institute documented in 2006, according to the Census Bureau the Iranian-born population of the U.S. reached 330,000 by 2000. But other estimates put the number of Iranian Americans "in the range of 691,000 to 1.2 million." And their ranks grew most rapidly during and after the collapse of the Shah's regime, the entrenchment of the Khomeini regime and the carnage of the Iraq-Iran war. As the New York Times reported in 1985 ("Emigres from Iran Begin Life Anew in America"):

    No one knows exactly how many Iranians have come to the United States since the Ayatollah set up his Islamic fundamentalist regime in February 1979, but it is estimated that there are 800,000 of them in the country, mostly in the Washington, Los Angeles and New York areas...

    Some are monarchists who want Riza Pahlevi on the throne once occupied by his father, Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi. Others are Western-educated, anti- monarchist students who favored the revolution but believe that the Ayatollah has betrayed it. And still others are partisans of the Ayatollah, and keep a low profile because of American hostility toward the current Iranian regime.

    The Shah had been a strategic American ally from the moment the U.S. helped oust Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. But the Shah's importance grew in the 1970's as Iran was elevated to the role of regional hegemon advancing U.S. interests around the Persian Gulf. But it wasn't only those close to the Shah who fled to the U.S. during and after his fall. Three waves of Iranian immigrants came to America during the 1980's and 1990's, among them students, doctors, professors, engineers and other professional occupations. The majority were Shiite Muslims, but their numbers also included a gamut of persecuted religious and ethnic minorities including Bahai'is, Jews, Zoroastrians, Armenians, Azeris, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmens. Those fleeing military service and the worsening economic conditions resulting from Western sanctions kept the number of new arrivals at or above 10,000 annually into the 21st century. (That continued even after President Bush declared Iran a part of the "Axis of Evil.") Largely clustered in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and the Washington, DC-Baltimore metropolitan areas, Iranian-Americans are now among the best educated and financially accomplished of any community in the United States.

    As the shameful history of the rejection of European Jews before and during World War II showed, the U.S. record of welcoming refugees from war-torn regions is far from perfect. But the 200,000 Hungarians who came here after the 1956 Soviet invasion, the 650,000 Cubans who fled Castro and the masses of Vietnamese (120,000 in 1975 alone) showed the U.S. was willing to accommodate many of those escaping Communist countries. Now with ISIS declaring it wants to eliminate the "gray zone" between the Islamic State and the West, the United States once again needs to show there is a red, white and blue space for Muslims in America. After all, we've done it before for the Iranian diaspora and the United States is a better place for it.

    Perrspective 7:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    November 22, 2015
    Memo to GOP: Bush's Only Regret Was His Tough Talk on Terror

    In the aftermath of the bloody attacks in Paris, conservatives are hopping mad that President Obama isn't mad enough. During Obama's G20 press conference, an incredulous CNN's Jim Acosta asked, "Why can't we take out these bastards?" s, Apparently unaware that the President's would-be GOP successors have offered little more than the steps Obama is already pursuing, Bill Hemmer of Fox News whined, "If you were waiting to hear a U.S. President say, 'I feel your pain' or if you were waiting to hear a US President say, 'It's them or us,' that is not what you just heard." And needless to say, the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan suggested to a role model for presidential leadership, her former boss:
    [C]ontinued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan's strength and certitude...Reagan's power was that he was confident. He was confident that whatever the problem--the economy, the Soviets, the million others--he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic. And get the job done.

    Sadly, the right-wing nostalgia for the He-men of the Republican past is comically misplaced. After all, a humiliated Ronald Reagan retreated in disgrace from Lebanon after Hezbollah's slaughter of 241 Marines in Beirut and the shooting down of U.S. jets by Syria, only to be embarrassed again by scheme to liberate American hostages by sending Iran a cake, a Bible and U.S. weapons. As for George W. Bush and the inspiring Ground Zero bullhorn moment conservatives now love to recall, the confident, tough guy rhetoric didn't work out very well, either. As it turns out, Bush43 has repeatedly said his bellicose rhetoric like "dead or alive" or "bring them on" wasn't just his biggest mistake; it was his only mistake.

    Mary Kewatt certainly agreed. As a grieving Kewatt told Minnesota Public Radio in the summer of 2003:

    "We have some issues with the fact that President Bush declared combat over on May 1. Combat is not over. We don't even know who's firing at us right now, and all of our soldiers are at great risk of being picked off as Jim was. And that's a shame. And then President Bush made a comment a week ago, and he said, 'bring it on.' They brought it on and now my nephew is dead." [Emphasis mine.]

    That's right. It wasn't bad enough that in just six short months President Bush went from declaring he wanted Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive" to announcing "I truly am not that concerned about him." As American casualties from insurgent attacks began to mount in the days he stood in front of a banner proclaiming, "Mission Accomplished," Dubya offered some tough talk to the supposed "dead-enders" in Iraq:

    "There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on."

    Six years later in December 2009, Bush's former press secretary Dana Perino complained it was "demonstrably false" to suggest "that President Bush was too triumphant in his rhetoric when talking about war." As it turns, President Bush didn't just repeatedly tell us that his "bad language" and "gun-slinging rhetoric" about the war was a mistake. It was pretty much the only mistake he ever acknowledged.

    As you might recall, back in April 2004--ten months after the death of Mary Kewatt's 20 year-old nephew Edward James Stergott in Baghdad, a stammering President Bush could not think of a single error he had made during his tenure in the White House:

    "I'm sure something will pop into my head here...maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."

    But by January 2007, just days after he announced the surge in Iraq, Bush admitted to Scott Pelley on CBS 60 Minutes that he had made mistakes, if only semantic ones:

    PELLEY: You mention mistakes having been made in your speech. What mistakes are you talking about?

    BUSH: You know, we've been through this before. Abu Ghraib was a mistake. Using bad language like, you know, "bring them on" was a mistake. I think history is gonna look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it.

    Amazingly, Bush's most profound statement of regret about his tough talk came during Dana Perino's watch in June 2008. In London as part of his final swing through Europe before leaving the White House, President Bush told The Times of London that his cowboy rhetoric was perhaps his greatest regret:

    President Bush has admitted to The Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a "guy really anxious for war" in Iraq.

    [...] In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. "I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric."

    Phrases such as "bring them on" or "dead or alive", he said, "indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace."

    Of course, Americans can be forgiven their struggle with the notion that George W. Bush was a "man of peace," especially he endlessly bragged to them that "I'm a war president." But standing atop the rubble of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 14, 2001, Bush offered inspiration and resolve in perhaps his finest moment as Commander-in-Chief:

    "I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people - and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

    They did hear from us, though some like Osama Bin Laden didn't actually receive the message until Barack Obama became President of the United States. Unfortunately, millions of people in Iraq who had no role in knocking those buildings down heard from us, too. And many of them--former members of Saddam's Hussein's regime, Al Qaeda militants drawn to fight U.S. forces in Iraq and disgruntled Sunni fighters alienated by the U.S. backed Shiite leadership in Baghdad--are the now backbone of ISIS today. AS Brendan Nyhan summed up the right-wing's furious response this week to President Obama's failure to show fury:

    We face the danger of confusing the symbolic expression of emotion with an effective policy response. Pounding the podium might be satisfying for viewers or reporters who want Mr. Obama to "kill the bastards," but it won't destroy ISIS.

    Especially when the President turns to infantile taunts like "bring them on."

    Perrspective 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    November 18, 2015
    So You Say We're at War with Radical Islam...

    In the wake of the horrifying ISIS attacks in Paris, the Republicans' best and brightest have one shared message for the American people. "We are at war with radical Islam," Florida Senator Marco Rubio declared, while his fellow Sunshine State Republican Jeb Bush agreed, tweeting "Yes, we are at war with radical Islamic terrorism." Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who during his 2008 run for the White House urged his followers to be "soldiers for Christ" in "God's Army," pontificated:
    "You're all grown up now. You can do it. Three words. Ten syllables. Say it with me: 'Radical Islamic terrorism."

    But if you're going to say we're at war with "radical Islam," you're going to need to be a little more specific. After all, like the "global war on terror," this latest worldwide crusade against a noun says nothing about who the United States is actually fighting or why. WWRI ("we're at war with radical Islam") not only fails to identify the enemy, it doesn't explain who are allies are--and aren't--and why. Without those basics, proclamations like "you are either with us or against us" are as meaningless now as when President Bush issued them 14 years ago. As a result, American war aims--war, after all, is just politics by other means--would remain a mystery. And that is a proven recipe for bloody, costly conflict without end, one whose only certain outcome would be to provide a continuous propaganda victory for those behind the slaughter in Paris.

    A quick rundown of the players in the Middle and North Africa shows that the enemy of our enemy is not our friend. And the term "radical Islam" says little more to identify friend, foe or bystander.

    For starters, there's little disagreement about the American conflict with ISIS. The Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh or whatever else you want to call it is a Sunni extremist organization with a stated goal of creating an Islamic caliphate. Birthed by President Bush's invasion of Iraq, the dangerously toxic blend of former Saddam loyalists, foreign Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters and alienated Sunnis is fighting the Shiite-dominated Abadi government in Baghdad and the Alawite Assad regime in Damascus. Although it is gradually losing control of its land base on either side of the border, the Paris attacks showed that ISIS continues to pose an immediate threat to America and American interests.

    But while that national security threat to the U.S. is clear, everything after that gets murky.

    Consider the government of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi in Iraq. Ever since President Bush declared his war there a "catastrophic success" in 2004, the objective of the United States has been to enable a democratic Iraq with its territorial integrity intact. But Abadi's predecessor, Bush's hand-picked man Nouri Al-Maliki, turned out to be a hardline Shiite partisan who alienated the Sunni tribal chiefs in Anbar province even as he cemented Baghdad as an Iranian satellite. The collapse of the Iraqi military in the face of the ISIS offensive left Abadi dependent on Shiite militias both to protect Baghdad and to liberate Sunni cities like Tikrit and Ramadi. So while Iraq's campaign to evict ISIS in the Sunni Triangle could make sectarian tensions worse, Abadi has let his Iranian allies use Iraqi air space to fly men and materiel into Syria to protect Bashar Al-Assad.

    But in the case of the Islamic Republican of Iran, the ally of our ally in Iraq is not our ally. And that's not just because Tehran has been the preeminent radical Islamist threat in the region since 1979. Even though Iran's Quds Force is on the same side with the U.S. in battling ISIS in Iraq, in Syria Tehran remains the patron and benefactor of the Assad regime and the Shiite minority there it represents. And for his part, Bashar Al-Assad has one other ally in the world, Russia.

    That's not to say Assad doesn't have other friends in the neighborhood. When the Syrian civil war first broke out in 2011, it looked like Assad would soon fall to the combined forces of the Free Syrian Army , the Saudi-backed Al Nusra Front and ISIS. But Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite power birthed during that nation's civil war in the 1970's, sent thousands of fighters to save Assad from collapse. Nevertheless, that enemy of the Islamic State is no friend of the United States, even if there is open conflict between the two. (It was to free American hostages from its Hezbollah proxies that Ronald Reagan sent U.S. weapons to the mullahs in Tehran as part of the Iran-Contra scandal. While Reagan never retaliated against Hezbollah for the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the U.S. and Israel did with the 2008 killing of its architect, Imad Mugniyah.) Today, Hezbollah remains a threat to Israel and to stability in Lebanon, but not to the United States.

    To date, the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State on either side of the Iraq-Syria border has been Kurdish Peshmerga. Last, Kurdish fighters backed by U.S. air power ejected ISIS from Sinjar, where its atrocities against the Yazidi minority prompted American escalation last year. But with calls from the likes of Jeb Bush and other Republicans to "directly arm the (Kurdish) Peshmerga forces in Iraq," the U.S. could create another wave of blowback. The close U.S. ties and growing independence of Kurdistan poses a challenge to the central government in Baghdad worried about the splintering of Iraq that could follow large scale weapons transfers to the Kurds in the north and tribal chiefs in the west as part of a new "Sunni Reawakening." Just as problematic, as evidenced by air strikes launched by the Erdogan government in Ankara, Turkey remains opposed to the strengthening of the Kurds both inside and outside its border.

    If "war against radical Islam" provides little guidance to Americans in the conflict against ISIS, that meaningless phrase is downright dangerous outside of it. Wahhabist Islam, propagated by Saudi Arabia throughout the Middle East, North Africa and beyond certainly seems radical in the eyes of most Americans. Does that make Saudi Arabia, now fighting Shiite Houthis and ISIS fighters in Yemen, an American enemy? What about Pakistan, tomorrow if not today? What about Hamas. Israel's foe in Gaza and the West Bank? What about Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group which carried out the slaughter in Mumbai, India in 2008? Boko Haram in Nigeria? Al Shabab in Somalia? Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines? The list goes on. If America's is a war on radical Islam, then we were condemning ourselves either to fighting all of them.

    And in the battle for hearts and minds, what message would the United States be sending to Muslim nations, Muslim communities in Europe and, most importantly, Muslim Americans here at home? The small but growing Muslim population of the United States is among its most thriving. As the numbers show, Muslim Americans are more than willing to fight for the United States. Their success, and their support from all Americans, provides one of the greatest refutations of the ISIS goal to eliminate the "gray zone" for them between the Islamic State and the West.

    But for Republicans trying to dictate the terms of the debate over the response to ISIS, there are no shades of gray, either. In the wake of the Paris attacks, Marco Rubio chastised Hillary Clinton for not describing America's enemy as "radical Islam" because "That would be like saying we weren't at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren't violent themselves." Jeb Bush announced that "we need to build a coalition that can fight both Assad and ISIS and give people safe haven." The party's 2012 nominee Mitt Romney resurfaced to remind America that he is still available to be President even if he has useful nothing to say:

    We must begin by identifying the enemy. We will not defeat it if we are afraid to call it by its name. These heinous acts of terror are waged by radical Islamists: jihadists. And the Islamic State represents the branch of this ideology that currently poses the greatest threat.

    If that content-free gibberish sounds familiar, it should. During his first failed run for President in 2008, Romney similarly conflated all Muslims into a single, unified threat. Romney, who like President Bush and John McCain opposed Barack Obama's call for unilateral U.S. strikes to take out Osama Bin Laden and other high-level Al Qaeda leaders within Pakistan, explained:

    "I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate."

    That "worldwide jihadist" alliance among bitter rivals probably came as news to all supposedly involved it.

    Regardless, after Paris the United States and its NATO allies do have a real enemy in ISIS, one that has the means and territories in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere in North Africa to attack America and its European allies in the region and at home. Rolling back that threat is a real national security challenge the U.S. and NATO must accelerate now. But that will take time and facing up to some painful compromises. Among them may be this: despite the universally held Western belief that Bashar Al-Assad "must go," he may have to stay--at least for now--to enable the defeat of the Islamic State. And to destroy ISIS, we must do away with the useless rhetorical construct that we are at war with radical Islam.

    Perrspective 3:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    November 17, 2015
    The Republicans' Dynamic Deception for 2016

    This week's GOP presidential debate was notable both for what the candidates said and for what they didn't say. Noting that Presidents Obama and Clinton had added 107,000 and 240,000 jobs a month compared to George W. Bush's anemic 13,000, Fox Business moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Carly Fiorino, "How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?" Given that immovable 800 pound donkey in the room, Fiorina had nothing to offer in response. But one of the other most revealing moments of the evening came when Bartiromo, pointing out that the Republicans' tax plans would "cost anywhere between $2 trillion and $12 trillion over a decade," questioned Texas Senator Ted Cruz "how can you cut taxes as much as you propose without running up debt and deficits?"

    In response, Cruz offered a coded response to his conservative audience, one largely overlooked by the media:

    Well, the numbers the Tax Foundation had put out is that the static cost of the plan is $3.6 trillion over 10 years, but the dynamic cost of the plan, which -- which is the cost that factors in growth, is about $768 billion. It is less than a trillion. It costs less than virtually every other plan people have put up here, and yet it produces more growth. [Emphasis mine.]

    Translated from Republican into English, Cruz was proclaiming that "tax cuts pay for themselves."

    Unfortunately, that conservative claim--that tax cuts spur so much new economic activity that government revenue is at least as much as it would otherwise have been--has been repeatedly, thoroughly and demonstrably debunked ever since Arthur Laffer's Curve was first sketched on a cocktail napkin 40 years ago. So, Republicans have turned to a new term--"dynamic scoring"--to both magically erase the oceans of red ink their tax plans would necessarily produce and happily avoid having to explain the painful, draconian and politically unpopular spending cuts needed to offset the hemorrhaging from the U.S. Treasury. The inevitable result, now as under Presidents Reagan and Bush, will be a mushrooming national debt and, at a time of record high income inequality, a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy.

    To understand why, a little background is in order. In the past, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) have generally used "static scoring" to forecast the budgetary impact of current law and proposed tax and spending legislation. Now, these models don't assume the economy is actually static in response to policy changes. As former CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf recently explained, traditionally agency "estimates for changes in benefit programs include shifts in take-up rates for those benefits among eligible people, and estimates for changes in income tax rates include shifts in the use of tax deductions." But until very recently, CBO's models for the most part did not take into account so-called "macroeconomic effects" of legislation:

    Some potential behavioral responses are excluded from estimates because the responses would affect overall output, and overall output has been held fixed in cost estimates by longstanding convention. Therefore, CBO's and JCT's estimates have not included the budgetary effects of changes in labor supply, saving, interest rates, productivity, and other aggregate variables.

    But with rare exceptions, until Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in 2015, CBO was wary of such dynamic scoring for two very compelling reasons: it was too hard to do and too easy to create the opportunity for partisan manipulation. But for most Republicans now, that isn't a bug, but a feature.

    That wasn't always the case. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO head and adviser to GOP presidential candidates including John McCain, warned that dynamic scoring was too difficult for too little benefit:

    In 2003, Doug Holtz-Eakin was appointed by Republicans to lead the CBO during the Bush years, and he came under intense pressure to use more dynamic analyses. But studies he commissioned found that dynamic scoring was devilishly complicated and wouldn't lead to drastically different estimates. As he explained in a 2011 hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, "it is unlikely to change the bottom line very much over the budget window."

    But it's not just that "there's a great deal of uncertainty" about "the right way to model things," as Donald Marron of the Tax Policy Center put it. As former deputy assistant director for tax policy at the Congressional Budget Office and fellow at the Tax Policy Center Roberton Williams warned:

    "We really don't understand the science well enough to do it right. The assumption built into the model determines, in large part, what comes out of the model. There's going to be conflict unless there's some agreement on what ought to go in."

    Among Republicans themselves, though, there is plenty of agreement on "what ought to go in." Despite their promises to cut taxes, raise defense spending and balance the budget, Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt during his tenure and George W. Bush nearly doubled it again. And in the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney like his running Paul Ryan relied on dynamic scoring to magically erase $5 trillion in new debt his tax plan would produce. As Ezra Klein summed up in "The Dynamic Dodge in Romney's Budget," Mitt simply resurrected Reagan OMB chief David Stockman's "magic asterisk," the same one that ultimately required The Gipper to raise taxes 11 times after his 1981 giveaway ruined Uncle Sam's finances:

    As a matter of theory, stronger economic growth could make Romney's plan work...if Romney really could double or triple the pace of economic growth, it would be much easier to make his numbers add up...

    The technical term for the secret sauce that Romney is using in his budget projections is "dynamic scoring." The idea is that tax cuts make the economy grow faster. They make people work harder. They persuade rich people to stop hiding money away. And thus they don't cost as much as a "static analysis" -- one that didn't take into account all these effects -- would suggest."

    As it turns out, Romney's 20 percent tax cut plan was basically the same one Bob Dole ran on--and lost on--in 1996. And the architect of that debacle, former Reagan Treasury official Bruce Bartlett, has long since recanted his support for the "dynamic scoring" at the heart of virtually every Republican tax plan for 2016. As Bartlett put it in 2012:

    As the budget deficit increasingly inhibits Republicans' tax-cutting, they are planning ahead for tax cuts that they will insist are costless because they will so massively increase growth. But for that approach to work, the C.B.O. and the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress's official budget and tax estimators, need to be forced to play along...

    My concern is that the Republican effort is just a smokescreen to incorporate phony-baloney factors into revenue estimates to justify unlimited tax cutting...In other words, it is an issue of credibility. Republicans don't really care about accurate revenue estimates; they just want them to show that tax cuts pay for themselves, so they can pass more of them without constraint.

    Constraints, that is, like the facts, the truth and the unchangeable principles of basic math. That's why new House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to rename the new math he and his GOP friends demanded the Congressional Budget Office use as of 2015:

    "He also noted that he prefers the term 'reality-based scoring' over 'dynamic scoring.'"

    Now, thanks to the reliably Republican Tax Foundation, the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls are manufacturing their own realities. Zach Carter summed up the Republicans' "basically insane" tax plans this way:

    Republicans on debate night are all promising to slash taxes and unleash economic growth. Many of them, of course, haven't actually presented a specific tax plan. But those who have are peddling economic fantasies. Even the conservative Tax Foundation believes these plans would balloon the national debt.

    Donald Trump's plan would cost over $10 trillion.

    Bobby Jindal's plan would cost $9 trillion.

    Rick Santorum's would cost $1.1 trillion.

    Jeb Bush's plan? $1.6 trillion.

    Marco Rubio? More than $1 trillion over the next decade.

    But these numbers are the wildly optimistic projections of the conservative-coddling Tax Foundation. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and company believe they can cauterize the bleeding of red ink through the magic of "macroeconomic feedback." Again, they claim, accelerated economic growth means tax revenues will still be healthy even at lower rates. Rand Paul has pledged that over a decade his "Fair and Flat Tax" will "increase gross domestic product by about 10 percent." Facing the tidal wave of red ink produced by Marco Rubio's tax plan, William McBride of the very same Tax Foundation turned to the alchemy of dynamic scoring to make an ugly picture much prettier. According to his model, over its first decade the Rubio-Lee plan would boost GDP by 15 percent more than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects. And with his forecast of capital stock increasing by 50 percent, wages by 13 percent, work hours by 3 percent and jobs by 2.7 million, McBride presto-chango turned red ink black:

    [T]he growth in the economy would eventually boost tax revenue, relative to current law. We find after all adjustments (again, about 10 years) that federal tax revenue would be about $94 billion higher on an annual basis. This is our dynamic estimate. Our static estimate, i.e. assuming the economy does not change at all, shows a tax cut of $414 billion per year. We believe the dynamic estimate is much closer to reality.

    (Just not any reality lived by any American since Ronald Reagan tried to the Laffer Curve sketched into actual policy. As Reagan's OMB Director David Stockman admitted in 1981. "The whole thing is premised on faith. On a belief about how the world works.")

    Writing about Rubio's "Puppies and Rainbows Tax Plan" in the New York Times, Josh Barro concluded something was fishy. And the rot, it turned out, started at the head:

    If that sounds aggressive to you, you're not alone: I discussed the Tax Foundation report with 10 public finance economists ranging across the ideological spectrum, all of whom said its estimates of the economic effects of tax cuts were too aggressive. "This would not pass muster as an undergraduate's model at a top university," said Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University professor whom the Tax Foundation specifically encouraged me to call.

    Among many others, Citizens for Tax Justice doesn't share the supply-siders dynamic faith. The CTJ's analyses forecast that Marco Rubio will drain $11.8 trillion from the Treasury over 10 years. Jeb! Will siphon off $7.1 trillion! (Bear mind that total federal spending over the next decade is projected to be $41 trillion.) As Vox explained, Ted Cruz's combination of a flat tax and a value-added tax (VAT) is the most regressive of them all. The top contenders provide mammoth tax cuts to the richest one percent of Americans. And the GOP field does all of this even as they demand a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and some refuse to raise the debt ceiling.

    All that said, there are compelling reasons to use dynamic scoring models in certain circumstances, as CBO's previous director Elmendorf explained in his paper, "'Dynamic scoring': Why and how to include macroeconomic effects in budget estimates for legislative proposals." Citing the example of comprehensive immigration reform bills in 2006, 2007 and 2013, CBO concluded:

    Assuming that those bills would have had no effect on overall output would have ignored one of the primary effects of the bills and distorted those estimates too severely.

    Immigration wasn't the only subject where dynamic scoring was--or should have been--used by CBO. When Elmendorf's CBO reviewed former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp's 2014 tax reform bill, the static analysis showed a revenue-neutral outcome. But with its dynamic assessment, "JCT estimated that the proposal would raise the level of output by between 0.1 percent and 1.6 percent, on average, during the 2014-2023 period. That additional output was estimated to reduce the deficit by between $50 billion and $700 billion during the 2014-2023 period." Then there is the 2009 Obama stimulus program. As Elmendorf explained:

    If dynamic scoring had been applied to the economic stimulus legislation of 2009 (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), its estimated budgetary effect would have been reduced by hundreds of billions of dollars: CBO (2009b) estimated that the legislation would raise output by more than $800 billion over the following decade, and that additional income would have been estimated to reduce budget deficits by more than $200 billion (or roughly one-quarter of the estimated budgetary cost of the bill reported in CBO, 2009a)

    In their recent analysis of the government's response to the financial crisis which started in late 2007, Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi tallied the positive macroeconomic effects of the Obama ARRA:

    • The peak-to-trough decline in real gross domestic product (GDP), which was barely over 4%, would have been close to a stunning 14%;
    • The economy would have contracted for more than three years, more than twice as long as it did;
    • More than 17 million jobs would have been lost, about twice the actual number.
    • Unemployment would have peaked at just under 16%, rather than the actual 10%;
    • The budget deficit would have grown to more than 20 percent of GDP, about double its actual peak of 10 percent, topping off at $2.8 trillion in fiscal 2011.

    And when it came to getting the most bang for the stimulus buck during the trough of the recession in 2009, spending on food stamps, infrastructure, aid to states and unemployment insurance provided a much higher return on investment than the tax cuts which comprised over 40 percent of the ARRA:

    And then there's Obamacare. Much to the dismay of Republicans, CBO repeatedly forecast the Affordable Care Act to reduce the national debt. Under the leadership of the GOP's hand-picked director Keith Hall, CBO once again warned the repealing Obamacare would add to the national debt under both static and dynamic scenarios:

    The agencies concluded (CBO, 2015h): "[R]epealing the ACA would increase federal budget deficits by $137 billion over the 2016-2025 period ..., [with that figure being the net effect] of two components: Excluding the effects of macroeconomic feedback federal deficits would increase by $353 billion over the 2016-2025 period if the ACA was repealed. Repeal of the ACA would raise economic output, mainly by boosting the supply of labor; the resulting increase in GDP is projected to average about 0.7 percent over the 2021-2025 period. Alone, those effects would reduce federal deficits by $216 billion over the 2016-2025 period."

    To translate, the CBO has long predicted that Obamacare will help end "job lock" by allowing some employees to retire early or choose part-time work instead. If Obamacare is repealed, these 2 million plus people will return to full-time work. When Republicans used this as proof that Obamacare is "job-killing," then CBO director Elmendorf replied:

    "Other people are generally happy for them and do not describe them as having 'lost their jobs.'"

    Regardless, as Vox rightly concluded, "No matter how CBO scores it, Obamacare reduces the deficit." Which is why Republican leaders like then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) called ACA scores "budget gimmicky." Newt Gingrich went even further, declaring:

    "If you are serious about real health reform, you must abolish the Congressional Budget Office because it lies."

    The new Republican majorities in the Senate and the House didn't abolish CBO, but they did what for them is the next best thing. They didn't just change to rules to demand GOP committee chairs can require CBO to produce dynamic scoring of Republican bills; they prevented Democrats from asking for dynamic assessments of spending bills. As the Brookings abstract of Elmendorf's paper explained:

    Elmendorf concludes that dynamic scoring would be appropriate if macroeconomic effects are only included in estimates for major legislative proposals, because CBO and JCT do not have the resources to do a careful analysis of most proposals. He suggests dynamically scoring bills whose non-dynamic effects would exceed .25 percent or more of GDP over 10-years, which would be those having a budget impact of $575 billion and above, and bills for which dynamic scoring is requested by the chairs or ranking members of the key committees. He also believes dynamic scoring should be used for legislative proposals affecting federal spending as well as revenues, because both sorts of policy changes can have notable macroeconomic effects. [Emphasis mine.]

    To put its dynamic deception into place, the new Republican majorities in Congress made one other change. they refused to keep Douglas Elmendorf on at CBO, despite the broad, bipartisan support he enjoyed among economists, analysts and pundits. Instead, they replaced him with their man, Keith Hall.

    Unfortunately for Congressional Republicans and the GOP presidential contenders, Keith Hall isn't going along with their conservative "Unicornomics." As he put it simply in August:

    "The evidence is that tax cuts do not pay for themselves."

    To translate that back into Republican for Ted Cruz and the other 2016 Republicans now trying to deceive American voters, expect more static about the dynamic scoring of your duplicitous tax plans.

    Perrspective 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    Presidents McCain and Romney Weigh in on "Aging Actress," France

    In the wake of the slaughter in Paris, Republican presidential candidates current and past have rushed offer their condolences to France and their condemnation of President Obama. The GOP's 2008 nominee John McCain issued a statement declaring:
    "My thoughts and prayers are with all of the people of France. America stands with our ally, the French government and citizens, as they mourn, heal, rebuild and prepare their response to this monstrous act of mass murder by ISIL."

    For his part, the party's 2012 standard bearer Mitt Romney took to Facebook to proclaim:

    "The City of Light became a city of tears. America weeps with you."

    Of course, McCain and Romney were singing a different tune about America's first ally when each was seeking the White House. Back then, it was Senator McCain who compared France to "an aging movie actress" who, like the poor "will always be with us." And it was candidate Romney who was planning to print "First, Not France" bumper stickers as part of his grand plan to become President.

    As President Bush prepared to pull the trigger on the Iraq war in February 2003, John McCain was at the forefront of those browbeating France for its refusal to back the U.S. at the United Nations. On February 10, 2003, McCain declared on MSNBC's Hardball:

    "Look, I don't mean to try to be snide, but the Lord said the poor will always be with us. The French will always be with us, too."

    McCain's venom toward the French was on full display two days later during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. On February 13, 2003, McCain warned of "new threats to civilization [which] again defy our imagination in scale and potency" portrayed Iraq as "threat of the first order." He proclaimed that "the United States does not have reliable allies to implement a policy to contain Iraq" and pointed the finger squarely at France:

    "Compare our great power allies in the Cold War with those with whom we act today in dealing with Iraq.

    France has unashamedly pursued a concerted policy to dismantle the UN sanctions regime, placing its commercial interests above international law, world peace and the political ideals of Western civilization. Remember them? Liberte, egalite, fraternite."

    Then on the 18th, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Lateline program highlighted McCain's antipathy toward France:

    Here's how influential Senator John McCain sees the French.

    JOHN MCCAIN, REPUBLICAN SENATOR: They remind me of an aging movie actress in the 1940s who is still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn't have the face for it.

    NORMAN HERMANT: Many in Washington are now saying relations with France have been a problem going all the way back to the end of World War II.

    SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Perhaps Churchill and Roosevelt made a very serious mistake when they decided to give France a veto in the Security Council when the United Nations was organized.

    As for Mitt Romney, who spent his Vietnam War years as a missionary in Paris instead of the rice paddies of Southeast Asia, France is a symbol of everything the United States should never be. And during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaign, "France" was the reason he claimed neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama should be in the White House.

    Throughout 2012, Governor Romney assailed President Obama for supposedly wanting to create "an entitlement society" in which "government should create equal outcomes." As he put it in Iowa, "I think he believes America should become a European-style welfare state." Then after his victory in New Hampshire, Romney repeated that Obama "wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society" and "takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe."

    And during his failed 2008 effort to secure the GOP nomination, Romney made no secret of which European capital he meant. In February 2007, the Boston Globe obtained a 77-slide Powerpoint presentation laying out the Romney campaign's approach for the challenges and competitors he would face in 2008. The document detailed strategies for overcoming his reputation as a "flip-flopper," addressing his Mormon faith, defeating his GOP rivals and, most of all, beating presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election. If the language drafted by his consultant Alex Castellanos sounded familiar (the same Alex Castellanos who continued to serve as a CNN regular despite calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch" on the air), it should:

    The plan, for instance, indicates that Romney will define himself in part by focusing on and highlighting enemies and adversaries, such common political targets as "jihadism," the "Washington establishment," and taxes, but also Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "European-style socialism," and, specifically, France. Even Massachusetts, where Romney has lived for almost 40 years, is listed as one of those "bogeymen," alongside liberalism and Hollywood values...

    Enmity toward France, where Romney did his Mormon mission during college, is a recurring theme of the document. The European Union, it says at one point, wants to "drag America down to Europe's standards," adding: "That's where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France." The plan even envisions "First, not France" bumper stickers.

    Luckily for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney finished first. That's why the people of France can rest assured that President Obama means it when he says the United States "prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need to respond." Sadly, would-have-been Presidents McCain and Romney, like so many in the Republican Party, never stood with our first ally at all.

    Perrspective 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    November 11, 2015
    The 800 Pound Donkey in the GOP Debates

    On Tuesday night, Fox Business hosted the next debate between the 2016 GOP presidential contenders. All involved hoped to avoid a repeat of the last such event, the CNBC fiasco which left the moderators embarrassed and the campaigns whining. But while the Republicans have been fretting about the debate format, questions, opening and closing statements, bathroom breaks and even the room temperature, the GOP White House wannabees have a much bigger problem. As a spate of recent analyses once again confirmed, the U.S. economy almost always does better under Democratic presidents.

    Going back to Herbert Hoover, the economy grew faster, job creation accelerated, incomes expanded and stock prices jumped higher when a Democrat sat in the Oval Office. And as the New Democrat Network documented last month, the last four presidencies are no exception (see chart above):

    Republican Presidencies have led to recessions and larger deficits; Democratic Presidencies have led to growth, job gains and lower annual deficits. In short, the Democratic approach to the economy over the past generation has worked. The Republican approach hasn't. And this dramatic difference becomes even more pronounced when one considers the how shockingly wrong the GOP's bet the house predictions of the failure of both the 1993 Clinton budget and the "job-killing" ACA have been.

    Even leaving aside for the moment today's low energy prices and the dramatic reduction in the ranks of the uninsured thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama literally beat the Bushes:

    Job Growth: Over the Clinton and Obama Presidencies, over 30m new net jobs were created. Over the two Bush Presidencies, 3.5m. On a yearly basis, perhaps a more fair comparison, the two Democrats have produced jobs at 7 times the rate of the two Bushes: 2.1m vs. 300,000 per year.

    Unemployment Rate: Both Democratic Presidents saw more than a 3% point drop in the unemployment rate during their terms. The Bushes saw increases in the unemployment rate by more than 2% and 3% points respectively.

    Numbers like these pose a problem for the Republican field trying to win over the Fox Business audience. After all, Jeb Bush has promised to deliver four percent annual economic growth over his presidency. Sadly, no President named Bush achieved that figure even once over 12 years. As for Marco Rubio, who claimed that "jobs are created by the private sector" and that "the government doesn't create jobs outside of the government," there is another small problem. The only jobs created by the last Republican president were government jobs. As Paul Krugman explained with a single chart:

    During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney and his conservative amen corner repeatedly claimed "Obama made the economy worse." It's bad enough for Republicans that their fraud was easily debunked at the time. As a new analysis from Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi showed, the combined federal efforts to rescue the American economy from its greatest collapse since 1929 "dramatically reduced the severity and length of the meltdown that began in 2008; its effects on jobs, unemployment, and budget deficits; and its lasting impact on today's economy." The impact of the measures taken in 2008 and 2009, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the $800 billion Obama stimulus program, Obama's auto bailout and the Federal Reserve's "quantitative easing," is simply staggering. Without those policy responses--almost all of which were opposed by Congressional Republicans--Blinder and Zandi estimate:

    • The peak-to-trough decline in real gross domestic product (GDP), which was barely over 4%, would have been close to a stunning 14%;
    • The economy would have contracted for more than three years, more than twice as long as it did;
    • More than 17 million jobs would have been lost, about twice the actual number.
    • Unemployment would have peaked at just under 16%, rather than the actual 10%;
    • The budget deficit would have grown to more than 20 percent of GDP, about double its actual peak of 10 percent, topping off at $2.8 trillion in fiscal 2011.

    Now, this isn't the first time Bill Clinton's former head of the Council of Economic Advisers and John McCain's 2008 economic adviser touted the success of the stimulus. In the summer of 2010 the duo similarly concluded, "We find that its effects on real GDP, jobs, and inflation are huge, and probably averted what could have been called Great Depression 2.0." But Blinder and Zandi had plenty company from the overwhelming consensus of American economists including the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

    As the Washington Post reported in June 2012, the House Budget Committee heard testimony from the CBO chief answering a simple question: did the $787 billion Obama stimulus work? Unfortunately for Republican propagandists, Elmendorf clearly refuted Mitt Romney's claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was "the largest one-time careless expenditure of government money in American history."

    Under questioning from skeptical Republicans, the director of the nonpartisan (and widely respected) Congressional Budget Office was emphatic about the value of the 2009 stimulus. And, he said, the vast majority of economists agree.

    In a survey conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 80 percent of economic experts agreed that, because of the stimulus, the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been otherwise.

    "Only 4 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed," CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee. "That," he added, "is a distinct minority."

    Not content with that response, Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp tried again. "Where did Washington mess up?" Huelskamp demanded. "Because you're saying most economists think it should've worked. It didn't." As the Post's Lori Montgomery detailed, Elmendorf drove home the point:

    Most economists not only think it should have worked; they think it did work, Elmendorf replied. CBO's own analysis found that the package added as many as 3.3 million jobs to the economy during the second quarter of 2010, and may have prevented the nation from lapsing back into recession.

    As it turns out, the Obama stimulus would have even more effective had it not been offset by draconian spending cuts by state and local government. By May 2013, the Hamilton Institute estimated those austerity policies cost 2.2 American million jobs and resulted in the slowest recovery since World War II. In April 2012, the Economic Policy Institute explained:

    The current recovery is the only one that has seen public-sector losses over its first 31 months...If public-sector employment had grown since June 2009 by the average amount it grew in the three previous recoveries (2.8 percent) instead of shrinking by 2.5 percent, there would be 1.2 million more public-sector jobs in the U.S. economy today. In addition, these extra public-sector jobs would have helped preserve about 500,000 private-sector jobs.

    Even with these setbacks from the states, President Obama like Bill Clinton easily outperformed his Republican predecessor. And Obama did it even as he cut annual budget deficits by two-thirds and kept spending flat since he first took the oath of office.

    Regardless, the United States has outperformed most of its global economic competitors, especially in Europe where austerity was the choice of policymakers. As Paul Krugman summed it up in April, the Republican austerians here at home still need to learn their lesson:

    Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity. In late 2012, the IMF's chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, went so far as to issue what amounted to a mea culpa: although his organization never bought into the notion that austerity would actually boost economic growth, the IMF now believes that it massively understated the damage that spending cuts inflict on a weak economy.

    As for the likes of Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and company battled it out in Milwaukee, the media was still focusing on credit card expenses, Baby Hitlers and who stabbed or hammered who. For her part, last night's Fox Business debate moderator Maria Bartiromo promised to steer clear of the pitfalls of the last one:

    "After that [CNBC] debate, I realized, I knew my marching orders. It was clearer than ever what my marching orders are, and that is to help the viewer, help the voter better understand what each candidate's plan is; is it a realistic plan, can it work and how is it different from the next guy or gal, and that's what I plan to focus on."

    To their credit, the Fox Business moderators tried to recognize the 800-pound donkey in the room. As Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal asked Carly Fiorina:

    Now, in seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you'll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?

    Fiorina didn't answer the question, because she couldn't. No matter how many unicorns the Republicans try to deploy, there's no escaping the demonstrably superior economic performance of Democratic presidents. That 800 pound donkey isn't going to move.

    Perrspective 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

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