Politics & Policy

Economy of Words

Dude, where's my recession?

The US economy — yes, that economy — grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate last quarter. This no doubt caused consternation at the highest levels of the Democratic Party, perhaps forcing some to consider a new convention film at the last minute: “Dude, Where’s My Recession?”

To hear the Democrats at their convention this week, you’d get the sense that a recession is merely a technical term for the worst human misery ever visited upon a once-great people. You’d think Americans were listening to the Democratic speeches as they huddled around their kitchen tables (if they hadn’t already been used for firewood), deciding which of their children to pack off to the orphanage and how much tree bark they can afford to eat next week.

Last night, Barack Obama proclaimed: “Our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.” He went on to describe an America reminiscent of the Grapes of Wrath (if not Mad Max).

But this was a week-long theme. Over and over again, Democrats insisted that the “American dream” is being snuffed out, crushed, beaten, stabbed and quite possibly dismembered in President Bush’s West Wing bathtub, where Bush and Dick “The Cleaner” Cheney can dissolve the remains in sulfuric acid.

On Wednesday, Joe Biden reminded the world that he rides Amtrak home to Delaware from Washington. (Apparently not since Gunga Din has there been a more heroic commute.) He told us that when he gazes out the window of his barreling locomotive, he can “almost hear” the conversations in the houses he sees whizzing by.

He “almost hears” things with an awful lot of specificity: “Should Mom move in with us now that Dad’s gone? Fifty, 60, 70 dollars just to fill up the gas tank? How in God’s name, with winter coming, how are we gonna heat the home? Another year, no raise? Did you hear — did you hear they may be cutting our health care at the company?” Super Joe even hears people asking him, “How are we gonna retire, Joe?”

Is there nobody between DC and Delaware talking about “American Idol” or their kids’ school play or how they’re sick of meatloaf?

Obviously, there is real economic pain out there. Food and energy costs are rising too fast and by too much. The mortgage crisis is real.

But while Americans don’t like the direction in which the country is heading, and hate high gas prices, they’re pretty satisfied with their lives.

Some 94 percent of Americans polled by Harris Interactive this month said they were satisfied with the lives they lead. Gallup reports that only 9 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs and only 13 percent are dissatisfied with their job security. The unemployment rate is at a five-year high of 5.7 percent, but it wasn’t long ago when that was considered close to full employment.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” mourned Sen. Biden, the “American dream feels like it’s slowly slipping away. I’ve never seen a time when Washington has watched so many people get knocked down without doing anything to help them get back up.”

Quick question: Was this the same Washington that oversaw the largest expansion of entitlements (aka the prescription-drug benefit) since the Great Society? Was this the Washington that recently started doling out $168 billion in stimulus checks? 

Biden’s keen ability to hear only awful news is symptomatic of a Democratic Party that isn’t merely eager to return to the White House, but desperate to launch a new New Deal. 

The mind-set is on display in almost every speech. Sen. Hillary Clinton decried the policy of “giving windfall profits” to oil companies. She seems to believe that all of the money, everywhere, is the government’s, and your profits are a gift. Windfall profits are defined as too big a gift from government.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, borrowing a line from Obama, complained that John McCain wants to give “$4 billion in tax breaks for Big Oil?” 

No. McCain wants to lower the corporate tax rate to make us more competitive with our rivals. Yes, oil companies are included — but by this logic (as my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru notes), Obama’s middle-class tax cut will be a tax break for hookers and serial killers. 

The greatest irony is that the one area where the Democrats are right about American pain — high gas prices — is the one area where they’re most reluctant to do anything substantial. Why? Because global warming appears to be their best shot at finding a major crisis to justify a new New Deal. 

The bad news for the throngs in Denver is that Americans aren’t as miserable as the Democrats need them to be.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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