The election process has been incredibly annoying so far. But it’s about to get much worse. Campaign and super PAC spending are only getting started. Their ads will be filled with misinterpreted facts selectively chosen to make one candidate look better than the other. But those are issues we talked about yesterday. Today we’re going to talk about how much credit a politician can take for the successes or failures of their country, state, district, etc…
Who to blame
The blame or fame game is a match of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Take a look at the chart below which graphs the number of jobs added in a given month (higher is better) and the total national debt (lower is.. well you know this one). The national debt is clearly much higher today than it was under George Bush. So is that Obama’s fault? Look at when the national debt started accelerating. It started under Bush.
At the same time job situation started improving almost as soon as Obama took office. Can he really take credit? The only way he could is if employers saw his inauguration (instead of McCain’s) as a catalyst. Employers don’t make decisions this way. The economic recovery was well in motion before Obama took office. Likewise, Obama may have made the call that took out Bin Laden, but you don’t think trigger happy McCain would have or Bush’s Department of Defense and CIA’s work?
The timing of data with a politician’s term always makes for convenient attacks or hurrahs. But just because something happened on one person’s watch doesn’t mean they are responsible. For good or bad, we all need to be held responsible for understanding this.
How much to blame
Even more important than who to blame is how much to blame them. Look at the job losses that struck towards the end of Bush’s term. Do you blame him? Do you blame the 110th Congress which was largely under Democratic control? Do you blame the 109th before them which may have put the policies in motion and was controlled by the GOP? Hell, the financial crisis was partially set in motion long before W and Laura moved into the White House. How much blame or credit should be on the shoulders of a president or even Congress?
The economy is a massive machine and while the people in Washington can steer it, the best they can hope to affect is equivalent to moving the Titanic with a couple of oars. Perhaps bad policy put the Titanic on a course with the iceberg, but most “bad policy” doesn’t seem bad by the majority at the time.
So how much can we blame Obama for the current economy? He didn’t get us into the mess and has struggled with a House that refuses to work with him in order to improve it. But even if everyone was working really well together the situation wouldn’t be dramatically different. If Obama won this year and Democrats controlled both chambers, we would not see much difference than if Republicans won everything, or if it all stayed exactly how it is today. The simple fact of the matter is no single president, and no Congress can actually change all that much.
In the long term, Washington can essentially lay asphalt for an interstate that is our economy. And that’s the best of circumstances. But they cannot force anyone to drive on it. We are at the will of a free market that allows billions of people to make their own decisions about jobs, spending, and borrowing.
In the short term, our elected leaders wouldn’t be able to even play calming music as the Titanic sinks because they’re shoving the women and children out of the way to their lifeboats.
Vote for the politician that sets out the best policy plan for what you believe in. You need little more than a checklist of issues the day before the election. Things like “policy history” or “economic record” are meaningless.