Gross Domestic Product grew by a pathetic (downward revised) 1.6 percent in the second quarter. This means we are not technically in a recession, but as Paul Krugman aptly put it today, “so what.” Given that we are a country with a growing population, we would need 2.5 percent growth just to keep unemployment stable. (On a side note, I think it is time to change the official definition of a recession to take into account the rate of population growth.) We are not in a recovery, and the latest poll from CBS News shows people are growing more, not less, pessimistic about the economy. While there are a lot of causes that should be blamed for this downturn, history has shown voters tend to blame the party in power, which in this case is the Democrats.
The poll found that only 20 percent think the economy is getting better while 34 percent think it is getting worse. That is a significant increase in pessimism from only a month ago when it was 25 percent better, 26 percent worse. What is much more concerning than momentary pessimism about what is clearly a bad economy right now is the destruction of hope. While 59 percent think the economy will eventually recover, an amazingly high 37 percent think the downturn is part of a permanent decline. These are numbers that approach a serious self-fulfilling prophesy of doom (i.e. the paradox of thrift). Half the country, 52 percent, thinks the effects of this rescission will last more than two years.
Not only are people pessimistic about the overall economy, they have a strong sense that the deck is stacked against regular people. The poll found only 35 percent of Americans think everyone has a fair chance to get ahead, while 62 percent believe that only a few people at the top that have a chance to prosper in today’s economy. Combined, these numbers paint a picture of an incredibly unhopeful country that doesn’t think change is possible. For a president and a party that tried to brand themselves as the embodiment of hope and the agents of change, these are bad numbers.
The economy is growing very slowly, but, most importantly from a political perspective, regular people feel it is getting worse. The voters are naturally going to blame the party in power, Democrats, for the economic failings. This should be terrifying to elected Democrats because it looks, as we approach November, that there are likely to be more and more, not fewer, voters who feel the economy is getting worse. November could be even worse than the poll currently indicates.
Yet, as the economy stagnates and Senate Dems re-election prospects evaporate around them, do they rush to pass grand, WPA-style direct employment legislation to deal with the lack of jobs, or legislation to provide real relief for homeowners who were not helped by the ineffective, illiberal HAMP program (which has proven to be the Obama administration’s way of slighting homeowners to help banks profit)? No, because that would require dealing with the silly, broken, made-up rules and “traditions” of their chamber. That would bring accountability to the Senate, which is the one thing they fear most of all.
Instead, Democrats will blame the mean old, tiny Senate Republican minority, pretending the Majority’s hands are tied while obscuring their own failings by screaming about how crazy the new crop of Republican candidates are. (By the way, that part is true.–this new crop of Republicans hold some scary positions.)
After so closely watching Washington politicians argue like children, and line their donors’ pockets through technically legal corporate welfare programs, while generally ignoring the huge economic crisis at hand, I can’t blame any American for a lack of hope right now.