The National Review Sees Reality… and Quickly Retreats to Their Usual Nonsense

The boys and girls at National Review briefly make contact with reality:

That was a tough question Tim Russert asked the Republican presidential candidates in Florida for the last debate. “[T]he unemployment rate in 2001 was 4.2; it’s now 5.0. The debt was $5.7 trillion; it’s now $9.2 trillion. There was a $261 billion surplus; there’s now a $250 billion deficit. Gas was $1.47 a gallon; it’s now $3.02. Why should the American people continue a Republican in the White House with that kind of economic record?”

None of the candidates answered the question squarely. Sen. John McCain switched the subject to the Democrats, who he implied would make those numbers worse. Governor Romney said he would run on his own record, not that of “Washington.”

But since Washington has been run mostly by Republicans for seven years, whomever the party nominates for president will have a limited ability to distance himself from their record. If in November the public blames President Bush for economic mismanagement, and he remains as unpopular as he is now, Democrats will win the White House.

The just-announced stimulus package will not save Republicans from that fate. It will do little or nothing to prevent the economy from falling into recession — and if there is a recession, the public will be receptive to Democratic attacks on Republicans, stimulus or no stimulus. Even if the economy stays out of recession, many voters will continue to have grave concerns about the cost of their health care, the value of their homes, the stagnation of their wages, and the price of fueling their cars. For Republicans to have resisted a stimulus would have compounded their political problem, but enacting one will not solve it.

But they recover promptly:

Here, for the record, is how we would have answered Russert’s question.

“Tim, the economy we Republicans inherited was not sustainable. A stock-market bubble had driven unemployment temporarily down, and revenues temporarily up. That couldn’t last. In the 1990s we were not paying attention to security threats. We paid the price in lives lost — and also in a major and lasting shock to our economy. In the ‘90s we were blessed, through no action of our government, with low oil prices too. There was no guarantee that would last, either.

“So when Republicans took office we faced serious new challenges. And we have acted. Thanks to our tax cuts, homeownership is up, consumer net worth is up, and average hourly earnings are up. The deficit has been going down. Real interest rates are lower than they were even in the ‘90s. More of our people are going to school now than in the ‘90s.

“I am going to keep taxes and spending as low as we responsibly can so that our economy continues to enjoy long-term growth. I have outlined reforms that will help people pay less for health care and keep more of their paychecks. Neither I nor anyone else on this stage can control the economy. We can’t set the price of oil. But we can do a lot to keep the economy as strong as it can be, even when there are shocks. And if the Democrats want to raise taxes or nationalize health care, I’ll be there to stop them.

“Next question, Tim?”

A few comments…

1. “Tim, the economy we Republicans inherited was not sustainable.” It seems the economy Republicans inherit is never sustainable, even when they inherit the economy from another Republican (see Ford and GHW Bush on the graph). It won’t occur to them to wonder why. As luck would have it, they could buy a t-shirt or a coffee mug or other products with a very similar design as a reminder.
2. “In the 1990s we were not paying attention to security threats.” Sure, but we were in August of 2001, right? And what does that have to do with the economy? I assume the security threats these folks are talking about come from Al Qaeda, not exactly an existential threat.
3. “We paid the price in lives lost — and also in a major and lasting shock to our economy.” Once again, click here – count up the number of red bars under which folks like the National Review editors would claim there was a “major and lasting shock to our economy.” Why is it that “these major and lasting” shocks don’t seem to happen on the red bars?
4. “In the ‘90s we were blessed, through no action of our government, with low oil prices too.” I have another graph for them to look at – this one on gasoline prices. They are right, but they might want to extend their comment beyond the ’90s, though I trust most readers would see the conflict that would cause at the National Review.
5. “Thanks to our tax cuts” – for a third time, click here. There are two graphs in that post to look at. Compare and contrast.
6. “homeownership is up” – didn’t they just mention unsustainable? And didn’t they notice GW stopped talking about the ownership economy about two years ago? Don’t they wonder why? Here is a graph on home ownership that would enlighten them if they looked at it.
7. “consumer net worth is up” – on the topic of unsustainable again… And as luck would have it, I’ve looked at that too so they could see exactly how impressive things have been under GW’s watch and under Rep presidents in general… and one can only imagine what that’s going to look like once we have data through the end of GW’s term given what’s been happening lately. And then there are questions – is this for most people, or just the folks at the top?
8. “and average hourly earnings are up.” I have that graph – I suggest the National Review take a look and compare Dems to Reps. And again, there is the question of where things are going from here.
9. “The deficit has been going down.” It did go down a bit in recent years. But this “stimulus” is going to cost money. And remember, the president’s promise in 2001 was not cut the deficit – there was no deficit. It was to pay off debt. That’s not moving the goal post, that’s playing a completely different sport. And as I’ve noted before, every Dem president since FDR died cut the debt (debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP), every Rep president after Nixon resigned raised the debt.
10. “Real interest rates are lower than they were even in the ‘90s.” First, that’s the Fed’s doing, not GW’s. Second, has it ever occurred to them why there’s a problem right now? Third, has it ever occurred to them why the Fed felt the need to keep money so cheap for so long?
11. “More of our people are going to school now than in the ‘90s.” I think this one is actually true and I’m in too much of a hurry to check right now. But let’s assume they are right. Congratulations are in order to the National Review for one meaningful sentence in their litany of things they’re bragging about.

Regular readers know I’ve asked before why Katherine Jean Lopez tolerates factually incorrect statements about economics at the National Review. Here, she steps it up a notch – I bet she helped write a bunch of ’em.

Update… added a small reference to t-shirts and coffee mugs and other products and removed a sentence about inflation since it was taken into account in one of the referenced graphs.