The Morning Jolt

Economy & Business

The Economy Is Humming Along Nicely

Making the click-through worthwhile: Good news on both job creation and wages, why Congressman Joseph Kennedy III brings too much family baggage to the cultural moment, good reviews for the president’s speech, and a universally-familiar look of confusion.

Can You Stand Some More Good Economic News?

Take your pick, do you prefer good news about job creation . . . 

The new year got off to a strong start for job creation, with businesses adding 234,000 [jobs] in January, according to a report Wednesday from ADP and Moody’s Analytics.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had been looking for private payrolls to grow by 185,000.

Job creation was concentrated largely in service-related industries, which contributed 212,000 to the total.

However, within that sector some of the better-paying industries showed solid gains: Trade, transportation, and utilities led with 51,000, education and health services added 47,000 and professional and businesses services contributed 46,000. Leisure and hospitality services also grew by 46,000.

Or good news about wages?

U.S. workers’ wages and benefits grew 2.6 percent last year, the fastest 12-month pace since the spring of 2015.

The 12-month gain in wages and benefits came despite a slight slowdown at the end of last year with wages and benefits rising 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter, a tiny dip from a 0.7 percent gain in the third quarter. Still, the 12-month gain was an improvement from a 2.2 percent gain for the 12 months ending in December 2016.

If the economy is still humming like this in November, and incumbent Republicans perform badly in the midterms, it will blow up the conventional political wisdom of, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Those of us who are not fans of the daily drama and perpetual controversies of this White House will have evidence to support the argument that Trump’s tweets and tirades are not just silly distractions; they’re enough to counteract what would be a key political strength for most administrations.

Or maybe Republicans will do fine in the midterms, and all of the daily drama really doesn’t matter that much. Time will tell.

Joe Kennedy III and America’s Long Overdue Reckoning about His Family

There’s a wide chasm between how Democrats perceive the Kennedys and the actual truth, and it’s not petty to keep pointing out that gap. There’s a stack of evidence showing that a lot of the Kennedys were horrible, selfish, abusive people who were somehow stage-managed and airbrushed into secular saints. The list of scandals runs generations, from lobotomizing Rosemary Kennedy, to JFK making Jackie get electroshock treatments, to the multiple allegations against William Kennedy Smith, to Patrick Kennedy driving under the influence. And of course, Chappaquiddick.

By Kennedy standards, Congressman Joe Kennedy III is an accomplished 37-year-old: Stanford and Harvard Law, two years in the Peace Corps, several years as an assistant district attorney. Defying his family stereotype, he doesn’t drink. But let’s not kid ourselves; if his name were Joe Smith and his family wasn’t an icon in American politics, he would have had a much tougher time winning a Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts at age 32.

That’s why there’s a good reason to cringe when Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Bobby Kennedy and great-nephew of John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, stands before the nation giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union address and laments “a system forcefully rigged towards those at the top.”

Last night, the congressman contended, “The [administration’s] record is a rebuke to our highest American ideal, the belief that we are all worthy, that we are all equal, that we all count, in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.”

The Kennedy family spent the better part of two generations fighting for equality in the eyes of the law for everyone not named Kennedy. As a review of the forthcoming film Chappaquiddick declared, “The fact that the Kennedy family — the original postwar dynasty of the one percent — possessed, and exerted, the influence to squash the case is the essence of what Chappaquiddick means. The Kennedys lived outside the law.”

Let us also acknowledge that when someone from a clan that has been touted as “America’s Royal Family” since at least 1962 sings the praises for equality . . . it rings hollow.

Joe Kennedy III may be an absolute gentleman with women and I hope he is. But when he salutes America’s women for “bravely saying, ‘me too,’” some of us can only think of John F. Kennedy bedding 19-year-old White House interns and Ted Kennedy making a “waitress sandwich” with Chris Dodd. For a long time, the Kennedy men embodied everything that #MeToo opposes. Some people may object to this point, declaring it unfair to hold past generations’ sins against the congressman. Of course, if his name were Smith or Jones, would he be giving the response to the State of the Union? Last night Democrats wanted to cash in on the benefits of the family legacy without acknowledging the dark side of that legacy.

My Fellow Americans, the State of Our Union Is Long

The reviews are in and there’s a broad consensus that President Trump gave a great speech. It’s just a shame that this good mood won’t last, because the president will eventually lose his temper and either say or tweet something controversial and un-presidential. As the boss observes, “This point has been made over and over, but if Trump tried to strike this kind of tone all the time, he’d probably be at 47 percent and the party would be in much better shape heading into November.”

I’d love to be proven wrong, but I just don’t think Trump has the discipline to fume and vent privately.

You’ll recall Monday I broke the news that the president would mention prison reform. The section on the topic wasn’t long, but it was notable that it was included: “As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.” This is part of how State of the Union addresses turn into laundry lists — a lot of proposals get mentioned for a sentence or two, so that no part of the White House staff feels neglected.

Ramesh wanted to hear more of an agenda for the rest of the year:

The great exception is immigration, where he laid out a relatively detailed proposal in a way that will strike people without strong views on the subject as fair and sensible. Long stretches of the speech were, however, simply vacuous, as when Trump endorsed higher infrastructure investment and lower opioid addiction rates without saying a word about how these goods would be achieved. These were goals, not policies. One reason the speech was so heavy on shout-outs to heroes and victims in the audience was that the policy cupboard is pretty bare. Congressional Republicans don’t appear to have any more specific idea of what to do now than Trump does. The speech did nothing to fill the vacuum.

Jim Talent notes that Democrats bet big that the economy would not be roaring after the tax cuts passed . . . and now they’re paying the price:

Many conservatives are criticizing the Democrats for not applauding at the economic good news that the president cited. But the Democrats were in a box on this one. If they applauded, it would look like they agreed with what the president was saying — and remember that six weeks ago they not only voted against the tax bill but predicted doom if it passed. On the other hand, not applauding made them look churlish. They might have compromised by applauding perfunctorily, but there’s a good chance that would have pleased no one. It was a tough position to be in, but that’s what happens when the facts on the ground prove you so wrong so quickly, and your political opponents have a high-profile occasion to take advantage of it.

Jonah says he heard a lot that sounded like “compassionate conservatism” of the Bush years:

This was for the most part a conservative speech culturally and thematically. But except for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn’t a hint of fiscal conservatism to it. Trump wants a huge increase in infrastructure spending and an end to the sequester for military spending, but he never mentioned the debt or deficit. Well, there was one mention of the word “deficit” — the “infrastructure deficit.” And he endorsed a new entitlement — paid family leave — while failing to mention any effort to reform the existing entitlements.

ADDENDA: Quite a few folks made remarks about Nancy Pelosi’s facial expressions during Trump’s address last night. I think that look of consternation is best described as, “that feeling when you’ve assembled the IKEA cabinet but for some reason you have a whole bag of screws left over.”


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