Austerian Pride

Yesterday I posted (twice!) a Think Progress chart proving that the government under president Obama had pursued austerity policies. It was done to refute Mitt Romney’s outright lie that the president had spent the country into oblivion, but some of us wondered why the Democrats would think it was such a good thing in any case.

Dday asked the fellow who made the chart for CAP:

I asked Linden why any progressive should look at this information with anything approaching pride or pleasure. “If your argument is that we shouldn’t be having a fiscal consolidation during a recovery, that’s a fair criticism of it,” Linden said. He claimed that his chart was more of a myth-busting document, merely showing the facts of the situation. It attempts to rebut criticism from the right of Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat exploding the deficit.

But what about the criticism that the economy needs more, and not less, fiscal support?[…]

Linden didn’t really contest the argument. “You can argue (the information on the chart) was the wrong direction, given our economic issues, given the fragility of our recovery,” he said. Linden did add that “it’s worth remembering that the President proposed a substantial jobs package last year and the Republicans blocked it.” That is true, although the payroll tax cut and an extension of unemployment insurance, a substantial part of the American Jobs Act, did pass.

But this gets to the point of who should take credit for that chart. Republicans in Congress demanded less spending, lower taxes and cuts to the deficit when they took power in the House in 2011. The chart shows that this happened. They blocked higher fiscal spending. They got a debt limit deal that constrains spending for the next ten years. They put forward the measures that will reduce the deficit by trillions, if the trigger remains in place. Republican House members should be just as comfortable tweeting out this chart as the President. It falls in line with virtually every one of their professed favorite policies.

“Both things are true,” Linden said. “One, that it is a myth that the President has been a great big spender… but you can also say, if you’re looking for a partial reason why our recovery hasn’t been faster, that may be one of the answers, that the President is pursuing the preferred policy path of his conservative critics.”

I think he may have missed the point. When the president and his supporters send out a chart like that lauding their success at cutting spending and taxes, they are telling people that it’s their preferred policy too.

But they’ve done this from the beginning, going all the way back to the transition when the president was giving the entire village a woodie with his Grand Bargain vision. The health care bill was sold as primarily a money saver (although nobody believed it…) They have often touted their tax cuts as huge accomplishments. president Obama himself promised to cut the deficit in half in his first term (a first term virtually defined by an epic economic downturn.) It’s quite easy to see why people would assume that they truly are proud of their record of spending cuts and tax cuts and think that a soft austerity was a pretty good idea.

Dday winds up with this:

“It’s a mythbusting piece more than anything else,” Linden concluded. “These are the numbers. Spending, taxes and the deficit have gone down. You can say fairly that this is not the economic policy we should be pursuing. If you want to criticize the President because he’s not been Keynesian enough, that’s OK with me. If you’re saying that he’s been too much of an austerity President, fine. But especially on a day when Mitt Romney is out there talking about the President running up massive debt and spending wildly, you have to say this is just not true.”

The problem is that the policy that would be best for the economy is the policy that would feed this myth, and when I look at what’s more important, the myth or millions of people suffering needlessly, I know where I come down.

Someday, someone is going to make the case to the American people for policies that will work instead of operating entirely on the basis of conservative myths. I’m not sure when that will be but keep your eye on Europe over the next few months to see what happens when austerity finally bites so hard that the people get fed up.

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