Politics & Policy

Polls Are Polls and Beef Is Beef

In terms of the economy and the more recent war effort, the beefs have it.

The adversaries of President George W. Bush are having a hard time dealing with the fact that the economy continues to do well: a 3.9 percent jump in GDP for the third quarter, a 4.9 percent increase in productivity, surprisingly low inflation, and booming exports even though “everybody around the world really hates us.” At the same time, tax-revenue data have been impressive. Since the Bush tax cuts of 2003, tax revenues have been surging (and the deficit falling) alongside an expanding economy.

And still, Bush supposedly has done a bad job with the economy, and other matters, or so we hear. “Where’s the beef?” the detractors ask, and when they find some beef they say it’s rancid. But I want to ask the detractors this very same question. “Where’s your beef?”

Last week, Eugene Robinson, an editorialist for the Washington Post, used beefless poll rankings in order to compare President Bush to President Nixon. Since each at some point in their tenures scored low in the polls, we are to assume that Dubya and Tricky Dick are somehow equivalent.

Let’s not forget that President Nixon raised taxes, imposed wage and price controls, and took us off the gold standard in 1971. For the balance of the 1970s, the Nixon/Ford/Carter presidencies kept inflation and interest rates in the double digits and the stock market in the tank. Under Bush, the stock market has soared, inflation and interest rates have remained low, and a commitment to world trade has contributed to a booming economy, both here and abroad.

And yet Gallup says otherwise, we’re told. As Robinson records, “only 31 percent of respondents [to a recent Gallup Poll] approve of the job [Bush is] doing,” a development which “actually overstates our regard for his performance.”

Pollsters tend to structure questions to get the answers they want, so I wouldn’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that the vast majority of the country is completely displeased with President Bush’s performance. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say Gallup is correct. Does that result give us a clear picture of what’s really happening? In the economy? In Iraq? No it doesn’t. The former continues to surge, and in the case of the latter, the surge is working.

Of course, if we take the idea that “polling = reality” a step further, we can look to the approval rating of Congress. According to an early November NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Congress garnered a 19 percent approval rating and a 68 percent disapproval rating. That result is quite a bit more negative than the president’s rating, and I tend to agree with it if only because Congress stands in the way of everything the president attempts to do.

But what, overall, are the polls telling us about reality? Certainly nothing that Eugene Robinson concludes.

He writes, “Throughout much of the world, the United States is seen as an arrogant bully whose rhetoric about freedom and the rule of law is disgracefully empty.” With French president Nicholas Sarkozy, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and British prime minister Gordon Brown all announcing they are solid American allies, one wonders who exactly this guy talking about.

Robinson’s observations on the economic side of the ledger lead to even more head scratching. He forecasts that “The next occupant of the White House will find the nation’s coffers depleted by Bush’s wars.” War quibbling aside, this comment reflects a deep lack of understanding of how the economy actually works.

The U.S. does not have coffers like you and I might have a “coffer.” The federal government doesn’t save money, it makes it. If the government were to “save” by running budget surpluses, it would actually be depleting the “coffers” of workers and businesses because it would be taxing them too much. Even the decline in the size of the budget deficit in recent years has had a tendency to remove fiscal stimulus from the economy. Given the fact that federal revenues have increased by over $700 billion since the Bush tax cuts, one might ask if those Bush wars are being paid for with a few hundred billion dollars left over from the tax cuts.

In his closing remarks, Robinson writes, “It’s easy to understand why Americans have come to think of George W. Bush as the worst president in memory, perhaps one of the worst ever.” For me, it’s becoming easier to understand why the mounting lies and outrageous assumptions of the adversaries of President Bush might produce a surprising outcome on Election Day 2008. Here’s where polls matter. In less than a year congressional approval ratings have slipped from 37 percent to 19 percent (a 50 percent decline), while congressional disapproval ratings have increased from 55 percent to 68 percent. The Democratic takeover of Congress that began in 2006 might be very short-lived.

Nevertheless, polls are polls and beef is beef. In terms of the seven-year economic expansion and the more recent state of the war effort, the beefs have it.

 

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