Sunday, on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, George asked White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe three times whether the United States is now better off than four years ago. It was entertaining to watch Plouffe, who did not directly answer that question.
To some people it may seem odd that Plouffe didn’t answer head on. Stephanopoulos’ three-peat implies, and many right-wing political commentators are saying, that Obama is culpable and America deserves better. Although I agree the Plouffe conversation was odd, it was not odd because he didn’t directly answer the question. Let me explain.
Obviously, it is a dangerous question to answer directly. No matter what you say, you seem to make the excuse that it is former president George W. Bush‘ fault. I know Pres. Barack Obama approaches things with truth. So the only other alternative is a truthful answer – that America is now approaching where she was four years ago. People have been through hell and don’t really feel things are getting that much better yet, and might not for a while. However, things are getting better and the pace will accelerate, Europe and China willing.
For Republicans, led by Gov. Mitt Romney, fiction is perhaps a third answer. They seem happy with fiction, including three-hour marathons, social and fiscal policies based on Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” and indeed, an entirely fictional world, akin (or perhaps Akin?) to Alice in Wonderland. A world wherein Gov. Romney is divining an alternate, amnesiac history of America’s arrival to this election. (You can refer to the link below for my September 1, 2012 article “Only a single set of footprints remain at the Tampa RNC” for elaboration on that world.)
I think, in order to avoid a potential “gotcha” moment, Plouffe repeatedly answered indirectly and in a way that left that four letter word “Bush” out of the sentence. It seems that neither side can bear to say it. I believe Pres. Obama well understands and is carrying out his challenging responsibilities. He is not looking for scapegoats or sympathy and he credits the American people with the capacity to remember who was George W. Bush. Certainly though, no one is going to ask where is he?
The oddity to me is this – why was Stephanopoulos so persistently asking the wrong question? Now my thinking might seem odd to you! But think of this. Four years after Katrina hit New Orléans – was it reasonable to ask New Orléans if it was better off than before Katrina? Four years after 9/11 – was it reasonable to ask New York or America if it was better off than before 9/11? Self-evident answers. No. And no.
You can argue 9/11 or Katrina was a greater human tragedy. However, the impact on America of the 2008 financial system meltdown and the ensuing recession is unprecedented except for the Great Depression. Also, and importantly, by their nature and condition, America’s challenges – fiscal, financial system, economic and political; created what has been a deep and intractable recession.
Bush created the elements of the underlying intractable situation in America. Borne of two fundamental things he did over his 8 year tenure. First, he set America on what is best described as her Titanic course, by fundamentally altering the U.S. fiscal and budget situation. He started with a yearly income that was reducing America’s borrowing and turned that into a massive yearly loss, and in doing that he dramatically ramped up borrowing. He did more than just create a fundamental shortfall in revenue compared to costs. In fact, he created a fast growing, exponentially growing, shortfall. And a fast growing national debt. He did this principally by enacting the now famous “Bush tax cuts” and also large “unfunded” Medicare entitlement and war spending increases.
The second thing Bush did, was enable the engineering and installation of WMD in America’s financial system. For example, he enabled NINJA, or no-income, no-job mortgages and loans. Plus the creation and sale of trillions of dollars of mortgage and loan packages that were seeded with these toxic bad loans and related derivatives. Thereby multiplying their toxic impact more than tenfold. And the WMD were duly set off just as Bush left office with their full damage and destruction evident only after some 12 months.
This is what generated this Great Intractable Recession. It bears noting that the financial meltdown made it more severe than a typical business cycle recession. A strong financial system and a strong fiscal situation are the main tools for generating a quick recovery. Given what Bush’ era and the WMD had wrought, America’s confidence and on the restorative leverage of her financial and fiscal condition cannot help, and in fact, impair her recovery.
And that red elephant we see every day that is riding, kicking and screaming, on the President’s back? Yeah, that is a big part of the challenge too….
The right question(s)? Try these:
- What has it been like fighting back from the twin financial and economic calamities?
- What are the things already done, what are you doing now?
- How far along are we in the recovery phase? It seems to be taking forever.
- What can everyone do to help move America forward?
- What can we expect in the next 4 years if Obama is re-elected?
- Oh and of course, how has it been carrying that big red elephant on your back?
I think Obama and his team are going to answer some of these questions for everyone this week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
So stay tuned!