Warning: What you are about to read is a deeply cynical view of the 2012 election. If you’re looking for puppies and rainbows, check back with me another time.
Many conservatives feel like this is the most important election in our lifetimes because we desperately need to reverse the damage done by the Obama administration and get the economy moving again.
Indeed, each of the remaining GOP hopefuls makes some version of this argument. They will fix what Obama (or Washington) has broken. The president, meanwhile, like a little kid smashing a clock with a hammer, says he just needs a little more time to fix everything.
Now, I do in fact hold on to the view that presidents matter. But this is a more controversial view among conservatives than one might think, at least when it comes to economic policy. When looked at from the proper altitude, the notion that the president “runs” the economy is fairly ridiculous. The president doesn’t have a “Create Jobs” button on his desk he can press.
But he does have a whole bunch of monkey wrenches he can throw into the economic machinery. Like a drunk blind guy with a blowtorch: There are infinite possibilities for making things worse, far fewer for making them better.
I think Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt turned a mere depression into the Great Depression. Not everything FDR did was bad, but very little in the New Deal made the economy better and much made it worse. This is a controversial position with many smart people on both sides of the proposition.
What is not controversial is that FDR got the political credit for ending the Depression, even though it really didn’t end until he stopped trying to fix it, and the economy didn’t boom until after he died. And, of course, Hoover got the blame for starting the Great Depression because it happened on his watch. To this day, Herbert Hoover remains politically radioactive.
Similarly, liberals continue to believe that big-government policies are effective in no small part because they think FDR fixed the economy with the New Deal.
Here’s the problem: If you look around the world, it turns out that whichever party came in to “fix” the Great Depression, after it was well under way, got credit for ending it. And whoever was in power when it started got the blame.