Musings —03.11.2013 09:43 PM—
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Is this place coming back?
As recently as two years ago, it assuredly wasn’t. The thousands of winter-weary Canadians who trekked here every March saw plenty of evidence to suggest the once-great United States had ceased to be great. It was in deep economic trouble.
Florida’s prospects were grinding and grim. The U.S. in general was hammered by the great global recession with astonishing ferocity.
For the first time in years, however, good news seems to be finally outweighing the bad. Last week, the U.S. Department of Labour confirmed the national jobless rate had dropped to its lowest level in four years. In February, the American economy added nearly 240,000 jobs, sending unemployment to its lowest level since December 2008, when the U.S. started to go to hell in a handbasket.
To some, the job numbers were a big surprise. Wall St., which gets things wrong more often than not, had expected about half as many jobs. The good news sent the Dow Jones Industrial average to another record high.
What is most remarkable about this turnaround isn’t economics — it’s politics. Throughout American history, no president has achieved re-election with an economy as bad as the U.S. economy has been. In fact, presidents don’t really win re-election when GDP has gone below 3%.
Barack Obama’s achievement — winning in November, and winning big, too — is therefore pretty amazing. How did he do it?
From the beginnings of his presidency, Obama knew the principal cause of U.S. economic misery: The reckless deregulation mania of George W. Bush’s regime.
Long before he became president, Obama signalled he was no leftist reformer. On the economy, “we should be guided by what works,” he said.
So, while he favoured the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt — and while he dismissed privatization fetish of the Republicans as “social Darwinism” — Obama was a Democrat in the Clintonian model. He gave shareholders a vote on executive compensation — a “say on pay.”
He created the “Buffett rule” — and gave families earning under $250,000 a tax cut, promising the middle class three times the benefit they would have received from the GOP’s John McCain.
He offered business a tax break for hiring more employees. He eliminated big tax cuts for big corporations, and levelled charitable tax credits.
But his signature achievement was the stimulus program he brought in within weeks of taking office. Coupled with multi-billion-dollar loans to the auto industry, Obama put the U.S. back on the road to the recovery it now (seemingly) enjoys.
On each of those initiatives — every one — conservatives opposed Obama. They derided him as a “socialist” and suggested he was a secret Muslim, and Africa-born, to boot. They are the very same ones now indifferent to what sequestration will do to everyday Americans and the recovery.
Obama’s economic policies were the right mix of private and public. Since 2008, the thread that runs through them is an acknowledgment that government can indeed be a force for good. But that government is not responsible for the irresponsible.
Up in Canada, it is Stephen Harper’s willingness to walk in lockstep with Obama — and the resistance of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin to demands for deregulation by bank lobbyists — that has kept Canada in a comparatively better position than the U.S. And, simultaneously, Harper has kept himself politically viable by acting like Obama — not Bush.
Until recently, Florida has been a nice place to visit. Thanks to Barack Obama, it’s becoming again a nice place to live in, too.