We all know that in the eyes of the mainstream media, the only good Republican is a dead Republican—which is to say that they denounce Republican leaders while they’re alive, then suddenly find a reason to praise them after they’re safely dead. How they did this with Ronald Reagan was to ignore most of what he actually did and stood for when he was in office, while claiming that what he really brought to America was his sunny cheerfulness and sense of optimism. There’s Ronald Reagan’s legacy: he smiled a lot.
So I wasn’t surprised to see the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson offering the following advice for how Democrats should prepare for this November’s election.
“Happy” should be the Democratic Party’s theme song for the midterm election. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, things are definitely looking up. Democrats ought to be clicking their heels and spreading the good news.
Why? Because that’s what Reagan did! As Robinson explained on MSNBC:
At least give [the voters] positive vibes. That’s what Ronald Reagan always did. Ronald Reagan talked to the country at times when people were down or not feeling good about themselves and what was going on, and…he did have a way of transmitting a kind of optimism that led to confidence and to feeling good about him as a candidate.
Robinson appears to be confused. The president who tried to talk the country out of its “national malaise” was Jimmy Carter. It didn’t work. As for Reagan, he didn’t win re-election just by giving the voters positive vibes or transmitting optimism. He won it by giving them reasons for optimism.
Consider the things Robinson thinks Democrats should be boasting about, such as “Friday’s announcement that unemployment fell to 6.3 percent.”
Ronald Reagan’s “Morning Again in America” ad, the one that pretty much sealed Walter Mondale’s doom in 1984, led with this fact: “Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history.” Note that this does not refer to the unemployment rate. It refers to the total number of people working.
Today, the unemployment rate is down, but that rate is calculated based on the number of people who are unable to find jobs as a percentage of those who are still looking for work. So it can decrease, not because more people are working, but because more people drop out of the job market entirely. And that’s exactly what is happening.
The headline unemployment rate fell to 6.3% but that was only because the labor “participation rate” plummeted back to a modern-era low of 62.8%, last seen in 1978 when there were far fewer women in the workforce. The rate for males is the lowest ever recorded at 69.1%.
So fewer men are going to work, relative to the country’s population, than ever before in our history. Hardly a cause to be happy.
But Robinson boasts that Democrats “guided the economy out of its worst slump since the Great Depression.”
Really? Let’s look at what Reagan did. At this point in his presidency, Reagan’s economy had already racked up five straight quarters of economic growth rates above 7% as the economy rocketed out of the short, sharp recession of his first year in office. Those of us who are old enough to have actually experienced those years firsthand might be able to recall the electrifying impact of living in an country with this kind of growth, and the sense it gave us of facing endless possibilities for the future. To quote from a popular graduation anthem of the day, our future was so bright, we had to wear shades. Those were the “good vibes” we felt under Reagan.
We haven’t felt anything remotely like that under Obama.
Last quarter, the official growth rate was 0.1%. That’s one tenth of one percent, which is indistinguishable from a recession. Under Reagan, growth exceeded its historical post-war average of 3.3%, making up for the lost years in the 1970s. Under Obama, it has been limping along at half its historic average, and now it’s dipping down lower.
Oh, and did Robinson ask Democrats to boast about ObamaCare? Economic production would have contracted last quarter, if not for the boost it got from rapidly increasing spending on health care, which is precisely what ObamaCare was supposed to prevent.
The two things are connected. ObamaCare was meant to remake the American economy in the image of European welfare states—which are notorious for holding back their economies to permanent rates of low growth, precisely the “new normal” we’re living under Obama.
There’s one more thing. Eugene Robinson makes allowance for President Obama being distracted from a positive economic message because he was meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about Russia and Ukraine. But isn’t that just another part of the picture?
By this point in Reagan’s presidency, the Soviet Union was clearly in retreat. Mikhail Gorbachev was taking a more tractable line in negotiations and had launched “Perestroika,” his last-ditch effort to save Communism by loosening the reins. Under Obama, by contrast, Russia is lurching back toward dictatorship and geopolitical aggression, and Obama doesn’t seem to have any idea how to deter Vladimir Putin, or much interest in doing so.
No, happy talk won’t save the Democrats. Before they can claim it’s morning again in America, it actually has to be morning again in America. And that will require learning more from Reagan than his optimism. It will require learning some of the actual virtues of his pro-free-market policies.