Historical Amnesia

by digby

Eric Alterman offers a timely little history lesson for the villagers who evidently were in some sort of giddy fugue state during the Bush years and think that Obama came into office with peace and prosperity instead of a smoking wreck of an economy. He tees off on this obnoxious article in Politico in which they characterized the deficit as Obama's "spending spree" without even mentioning that he's spent the money in an effort to stave off global economic collapse. I have my criticisms of the way they've gone about it, but to perpetuate the idea that they've just gone shopping is infuriating, particularly since it was that miscreant Bush who inherited peace and prosperity and then gave all the money away to his wealthy friends and then started two expensive wars --- which also enriched his wealthy friends.

Alterman corrects the record:

Even if the Politico editors are not interested in what may have happened in the past eight years to cause some of the deficits with which the Obama administration is forced to deal, we are. And here are just a couple of examples we found:

The Bush tax cuts: When the Bush tax cuts sunset at the end of 2010, the previous administration will have left the government holding the bag for well over $2 trillion in lost revenue. The extraordinary debt and deficits accrued during Bush’s tenure have been compounded by the implosion of the financial system. In addition, the estimated eventual costs of the costly, unnecessary, and counterproductive Iraq war are now in the trillions to say nothing of the costs of more than six years of failure in Afghanistan. What have they done for America?

As The New York Times’ David Cay Johnston recently noted, based on data compiled by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, by the time the Bush tax cuts expire next year, people in the top one percentile of annual household incomes will have received 23.5 percent of all the savings in the cuts. The combined savings of the bottom three income brackets was less than that.

In 2004, Peter Orszag, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote extensively on the costs of the Bush tax cuts as a fellow at the Brookings Institution. He explained that the only way to make the tax cuts permanent and fill the budget gap would be to make enormous cuts in vital government services or to institute new regressive taxes.

Were the cuts paid for, the burden would fall on those in the lower income brackets in both spending cuts to services and increased taxes. Up to this point, the Bush tax cuts have not been paid for in either significant cuts in spending or tax increases—merely with increased debt. David Johnston pointed out that the interest on that debt equals “a month worth of income taxes paid to the government by individuals.”

read on ...

The result of the mischaracterization about "spending sprees" and the deficit boogeyman that we see all over the media (and sadly, even among members of the administration) is this:
As the policy debate has unfolded in Washington this year, voters have consistently believed that tax cuts would do more than increased government spending to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Now that the nation’s unemployment rate has reached 10.2%, voters continue to hold that view.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 62% believe tax cuts are a better way to create jobs and fight unemployment. Only 21% believe that additional stimulus spending is a more effective tool. Earlier this year, as the first stimulus package was being debated in Congress, 62% of voters wanted the plan to have more tax cuts and less spending.

Given a different choice today, 51% believe canceling the rest of the stimulus money would create more jobs while 32% say spending the money would be the better approach to job creation. These findings are consistent with earlier polling. Most Americans say that, generally speaking, increased government spending is bad for the economy.

This is an intuitive response, and perfectly understandable. Everyone should tighten their belts when times are tough --- even the government, right? That is, of course, wrong, but this notion has been fed by conservative propaganda and exacerbated by the total failure of liberals to explain why they are wrong. People don't speak Keynesian --- someone has to translate it for them. And nobody has. The elites all blather to one another about cost curves and credit default swaps, the media midlessly drool over Palin's legs while passing on lazy narratives about "taxnspend" liberals without context or explanation --- and the people are left listening to their guts at best --- and Glenn Beck at worst. It's a problem.