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Jeb Bush discovers a hypothetical he’s willing to address—and assures us that he, unlike Obama, would have ensured a second Great Depression. Jeb for President!

Questioned by a voter inside a sports bar about whether there is “space” between himself and his older brother on any issues, Bush offered a clear critique.

“Are there differences? Yeah, I mean, sure,” Bush said. “I think that in Washington during my brother’s time, Republicans spent too much money. I think he could have used the veto power — he didn’t have line-item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C. That seems kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just like lit up astronomically. But having constraints on spending across the board during his time would have been a good thing.”

—  Jeb Bush: George W. spent too much money, Eli Stokols, Politico, yesterday

Okay, so Bush has now found a hypothetical that he wants to discuss.  Two hypotheticals, actually: (1) what his fiscal policies would have been between Jan. 2001 and Jan. 2009; and (2) what his fiscal policies would have been between Jan. 2009 and, oh—at what point did the federal budget deficit decline dramatically?  2013? And … what is the deficit now, as compared with the Bush years?  And what role did the Bush tax cuts play in that?

But really, since these are to separate hypotheticals, we—well, the people who actually can ask and maybe get an answer (i.e., the news media; Hillary Clinton)—should ask two sets of questions.

First, we (they) should ask what spending, specifically, Jeb Bush would not have authorized during his brother’s presidency that his brother authorized.  The military spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  The massive spending on increased security after 9/11?  The Medicare Part D prescription-drug law?  The frantic stopgap finance-industry bailout that George Bush’s Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, put together in the fall of 2008 in order to try to fend off a near-complete collapse of the banking system?

Or maybe the initial part of the auto-industry bailout, without which George Bush said the unemployment rate would have jumped to about 20%?

So, would Jeb Bush—knowing then what we know now, about the near-collapse of the banking system, and of the economy, late in his brother’s presidency, and the fact that the Iraq war went on and on and on—have supported his brother’s two massive tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, during his first term?

Just askin’.  Although I’d bet that’s a hypothetical that he’d take even longer to answer than the five days it took him to answer the infamous Iraq one.  Maybe even as long as 18 months.

Then, of course, there’s that second hypothetical that Bush answered yesterday—the one in which he said the budget deficits at the end of his brother’s term seem “kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just like lit up astronomically,” indicating that he (Jeb) thinks Obama, in the face of the collapsing economy and banking system, should have … what, exactly?

Cut funding for unemployment compensation, or capped it at its 2007 level?  Refused to allow extensions of it?  Cut funding for food stamp access, or capped it at its 2007 level?

Ended the financial industry bailout begun under his brother?

Let Detroit go bankrupt?  (That wasn’t such a winning tack for Mitt Romney.  But, I mean, ya never know. …)

Ah. Maybe he means the stimulus bill, which provided funding for job training and college for hundreds of thousands of people, especially in states hardest hit by the collapse of the economy.  States like Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, Florida.  And the direct spending from that bill, on infrastructure projects and such.  Y’know, the stuff that virtually all mainstream economists now say helped keep the unemployment rate from reaching Great Depression levels and helped start the recovery.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, that the political media played up Bush’s comments yesterday–at least in headlines and soundbites if not in the actual reportage itself by reporters who wrote full articles about the comments (see, e.g. the quote at the opening of this post, and the title given the article)–as Bush Brother v. Bush Brother.  Because of course it’s the family saga, not the specifics of the policies, that matter, right?*

And some mainstream political reporters, including a couple of them from Politico, where (unrelatedly) the above quotes were originally published, couldn’t analyze their way out of a paper bag.  And Clinton herself pretty clearly has settled on a campaign of mindless clichés, Republican soundbites about federal regulation, and cutesy gimmicks.  Does she really not understand that most small business red tape has nothing at all to do with federal regulations? Or does she just think that most people don’t know the difference between private-bank business-loan operations and federal regulation, and between state and local business regulations—a.k.a., red tape—and federal regulations?  And that no one will ask her what regulations, exactly, she thinks are holding back small-business owners and aspiring small-business owners?

On that last point, she may be right, since she has almost no direct contact with the press and no contact at all with everyday Americans who haven’t been prescreened as props.

So maybe Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley—or Elizabeth Warren—will question the specifics of Jeb Bush’s answers to those hypotheticals.  And the specifics of Clinton’s claim that federal regulations are hindering small business.  Like, which federal regulations, specifically?  And maybe, at least regarding Bush’s, a Dem SuperPAC that is not coordinating with Clinton and her silly campaign, will run web ads or TV ads eventually that do that.

And maybe Sanders, O’Malley, Warren, or a progressive Democratic SuperPAC will point out that the biggest hindrance to small business loan availability, by far, is not federal regulation, or even state or local regulation, but instead federal deregulation—of the banking system.  Specifically, the disastrous repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.  And mention the incessant Republican push to repeal the Dodd-Frank bank-regulation law, and their fight against instituting the Volker Rule.

Clinton is right that “[t]oo many regulatory and licensing requirements are uneven and uncertain” and that “[i]t should not take longer to start a business in the U.S. than it does in Canada, Korea, or France.” But small-business regulation is mostly, and licensing is entirely, state and local, not federal.  So maybe she’ll get around to pointing that out and detailing what she, as president, would propose as a national fix.  In any event she should not further the Republican misrepresentation that small-business regulation and licensing is done by the federal government. With the exception of federal tax laws, including FICA tax laws, and environmental laws and worker-safety laws, “cutting the red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs” means tackling state and local, not federal, red tape.

As for my earlier dismay at Clinton’s senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan’s Fox News-ish claim that Democrats support obstacles for small businesses, and are against small businesses having easy access to loans—we don’t want them to compete with Walmart, see—I now get it.  Sadly. Blame imagined Democratic anti-small-business sentiment, and big federal gummint, rather than the deregulated banking industry, for the labyrinthine high-hurdle event that is the small-business loan situation now.

Clinton speaks of her father’s success in opening and running a very profitable small business. His business loans, though, weren’t from banks competing for profits with multinational hedge funds masquerading as JPMorgan Chase Bank, Citibank and Bank of America.

But, as for Jeb Bush, at least he’s honest.  He’s told us now that had he, instead of Obama, been president in the aftermath of his brother’s presidency, he’d have ensured a complete collapse of the economy.  Vote for Jeb!

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The Republican Congressional Delegation’s Oddly Faulty Memory of 2004 — UPDATED

House Republicans argue that voters handed their members a mandate as well, granting the party control of the House for another two years and with it the right to stick to their own views, even when they clash strongly with the president’s.
And many Republicans remember well when the tables were turned. After Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Democrats eagerly thwarted his push for privatization of Social Security, hobbling Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda in the first year of his second term.

Events Recall a More Bipartisan Era, and Highlight Gridlock of Today, Michael D. Shear, New York Times, today.

Whoa.  Funny, but I too remember the weeks following the 2004 presidential election. Which immediately followed the 2004 presidential campaign.  Which I also remember; it wasn’t all that long ago.  

And I remember that during that campaign, Bush never mentioned his plan to privatize Social Security.  

Yes, that’s right.  Bush waited until immediately after the election to announce his intention to privatize Social Security–outraging not just Democrats but millions of Independents, some of whom had voted for him, and even some Republicans.  

The main focus of the 2004 presidential campaign was national security.  Privatization of Social Security was not an issue at all in 2004.  Not until after the campaign, that is, when Bush not only announced his plan but also then campaigned intensely for public support for it, to no avail.  The proposal quickly proved deeply unpopular.  And congressional Republicans began to run from it.  The Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress, did not even put it up for a vote, in either house, if I recall correctly.

So if Republicans think they remember that the tables were turned–a metaphor that refers to actual similarity, or at least some semblance of it–they might consider seeing a neurologist.  Or maybe just reading news accounts from the period between Bush’s announcement of his proposal and the death of that proposal early in 2005.  They also can search for reports of any mention–any suggestion at all–by Bush during the campaign that he was planning to propose the privatization of Social Security.  I wish them luck.

As for their claim to a mandate because they retained control of the House, the speciousness of this assertion has already been documented and discussed in the mainstream media, largely because a Washington Post reporter (I wish I could recall his name, but I can’t) meticulously researched the campaign results, congressional district by congressional district, and then did something that modern Republicans don’t: math.  Republicans lost, albeit narrowly, the aggregate popular vote in House elections nationwide.  They retained control of the House only because of extreme gerrymandering last year in some states, most notably in Pennsylvania and Texas, but in other states as well.  

The word “mandate” in this context leaves room for debate about what percentage of victory in the popular vote constitutes one.  But a victory in the popular is a prerequisite to that debate.  The Republicans don’t have the prerequisite, nor do they claim to have it; they simply misuse the word “mandate”.  Like so many other words.  

But at least it’s not false for them to note that they did retain control of the House.  What is baldly false, though, is their characterization of late 2004 and early 2005 as tables turned.  Unless, of course, there’s such a thing as a retroactive mandate for a policy that wasn’t disclosed during a campaign and is announced as a surprise only afterward.  Immediately afterward.

Which, now that I think about it, probably is what happened in 2004.  no, the public isn’t clairvoyant.  But we did know during the campaign that a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress in the current era will always want to privatize Social Security, and will waste no time (literally, in that case) in trying to do that when they hold the White House and majorities in both congressional houses.  We just forgot that, to our near-detriment–a mistake that, I trust, we the public won’t make again, however much Republican candidates insist otherwise during the campaign.  Because the Dem candidates will remind the public, during the campaign, of what happened after the election of 2004.  And of the current congressional Republicans’ claim in that New York Times article that a clear election victory is not a mandate on issues that were at the express and constant heart of a national campaign, because, after all, the opposition party doesn’t recognize as a mandate a vital policy proposal made only after the election that retroactively turned out to be all about that vital policy issue after all.  I mean, who knew?  Well, the Republicans did.

And now we do too, and it will be a prominent factor in campaigns to come.  The sheer trickery;  the attempt, in 2004 and now, to utterly undermine the very concept of democracy.  The current congressional Republicans’ express equating, as Shear reports, of a policy issue clearly at the heart of a campaign with a policy not even mentioned during the campaign.  It’s of a piece with the Romney campaign’s modus operandi of incessant, outright misrepresentations of fact.  And also of a piece with state and federal Republican legislative and executive-branch officeholders’ policy of delegating to lobbying groups the actual writing of legislation, including during lame-duck periods, enacting policies never proposed and, in some instances, expressly rejected by the officeholders, pre-election.  (Think: Michigan, Dec. 2012.)

But there’s also a separate issue of the messenger’s’–Shear’s–curious acceptance of the false equivalence of Bush’s and Congress’s handling of the Social Security privatization issue in late 2004 and early 2005 and resolution of the tax and spending issues of the fiscal cliff.  Shear mentions that Obama’s current approval rating in this week’s polls is his highest since shortly after bin Laden was killed.  He doesn’t mention that Obama’s approval rating has been above 50% throughout the post-election period, including the period before the Newtown shooting rampage, when the cliff talks were the news story, daily.  And that Bush’s approval rating plummeted once he announced his Social Security privatization plan.  And that the juxtaposition of the drop in Bush’s approval rating and that announce was not coincidence; the polling on that issue was awful for him.

We all are, by now, used to the news media’s acquiescence in the Republicans’ false-equivalency game. This Times article, by a reporter whose reporting is normally of high quality, makes me wonder whether there’s just is no limit to even the reporter-as-mindless-stenographer-for-fear-of-appearing-to-be-anti-Republican mindset at even the very highest level of the mainstream media.*

*This sentence had a large cut-and-paste error in it, and has now been corrected.

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UPDATE:  Well … in the comments to this post, reader CasualObserver wrote:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxQAoKL7EBY

Watch at the 5 min mark you will find that the faulty memory is all yours.

To which AB regular contributor Bruce Webb responded:

Well I don’t relish being the skeleton at the feast here, but Bush made his intentions on SS crystal clear when he set up his CSSS (Commission to Strengthen Social Security) in 2001 with six specific guidelines. one of whic categorically ruled out Payroll tax solutions of the sort Dale and us put forth as the ‘NW Plan’ and another nandated that private accounts had to be part of the package.

CSSS rolled out its recommendations right on time, unfortunately for Bush that time was right after 9/11. Absent that, which the Bush Administration was not expecting at all, we could have expected some analogue of the 2005 Social Security Tour being rolled out in 2002. The Bush Administration apparently took the intention for the deed and after fighting out the mid-terms and the 2004 presidential elections almost solely on national security somehow got the idea that yhe time was ripe to push the ‘Bi-Partisan’ Model 2 CSSS Plan, though at first with the flimsy vover of the near identical Posen Plan. because Posen, like a full half of the CSSS was a Democrat.

Anyway by Nov 26th 2004 Bush could plausibly claim that his plans for Social Security were fully spelled out after a ‘bi-partisan’ process for the last three years and so were at least implicitly on the table during the 2004 campaign. perhaps counting on the fact that no one was paying attention. and he almost won that bet, the fond belief by Dem leaders that they shot down Model 2 is not supported by the chronology instead the SS Tour was stopped in its tracks by the blogger led ‘There is No Crisis’ movement (in which I had an informal role but which was led by Dave Johnson and some others).

So no there was little to no talk of Social Security privatization on the hustings, and unless you were predisposed to be a SS geek that “I have got capital” move would indeed come out of thin air. Me I set up a new Social Security blog within 48 hours (bruceweb.blogspot.com) and started lobbing SS Report tables at figures with abandon. Because for my sins I was already seven years into this SS thing. And as such knew what Bush was about.

For which I am deeply grateful, Bruce, since after I read CasualObserver’s comment and did watch the video clip–which shows presidential-debate moderator Bob Schieffer asking Bush about his proposal to allow people to use part of their Social Security taxes to invest in the stock market rather than have the money go to the U.S. Treasury–I was dismayed.  How could I, who was downright obsessed with the 2004 presidential campaign and its outcome, not recall that Bush had campaigned in 2004 on his plan, announced years earlier, to partially privatize Social Security?

The answer, it turns out, is that Bush didn’t campaign on that plan during the 2004 campaign.  Schieffer was asking him about what had transpired before 9/11, and his commission’s recommendations, released in 2002.  To his credit, Bush, unlike a certain Republican presidential candidate in 2012, didn’t deny that he had done and said what Schieffer said he had.  Nor did he flip-flop.  He answered, straightforwardly, that this was his intention, and made a brief argument for the policy.

But Bush himself did not raise the issue during the campaign, and certainly did not campaign on the issue; that answer to Schieffer’s question probably is the only time he mentioned it during that campaign, unless maybe some other reporter asked him about it at some other point.  And Republicans had held control of both houses of Congress throughout Bush’s term, yet neither Bush nor the congressional Republicans had attempted to enact this into law.  That, of course, is because it was a very unpopular proposal.  

So CasualObserver is right, and I was wrong, that Bush made clear at some point during the campaign that he wanted to propose a plan to partially privatize Social Security.  But CasualObserver is wrong in suggesting that Bush campaigned on this.  He did not; he said, once or perhaps twice, in answer to a question, that he planned to do this.  But there was little expectation that such a proposal, if actually presented as a bill in Congress, would go very far.  And it did not go very far, not, as the current Republican congressional delegation claims, because the Senate Dems threatened a filibuster, or whatever, but because the polls were consistently showing–to Republican members of Congress as well as to Dem ones–that there was strong, broad-based opposition to it among the public.  So strong, in fact, that Bush’s 2005 attempt to have this policy enacted played a role in the unexpected change of both houses of Congress to Dem control in the 2006 election.  This, even though there weren’t enough Republican members in either house in 2005 to push this through.

The 2004 election was almost entirely about national security–at a time when, polls showed, about half the public still believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and many still thought he had had weapons of mass destruction.  Virtually no one, Republican or Democrat, viewed the central issue in the campaign as anything else.

Suffice it to say that it is delusional–or maybe just a desperate political gimmick–for the current Repub crowd to claim an equivalence, in any substantive respect at all, between the 2005 Social Security privatization issue and the fiscal-policy controversies at issue in the current situation.

Including, not incidentally, that the Social Security privatization issue didn’t threaten to bring down the economy in 2005.

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Romney Says Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton Did Not Believe In Free People and Free Enterprise

Romney didn’t apologize for [his] comments, instead he doubled down, saying that his opponent, President Barack Obama, believes in “redistributing wealth,” while “we believe in free people and free enterprise.”

Democrats “believe you have to take from some and give to others. I don’t believe in that,” he said, repeating the same theme.

“I believe America was built on the principle of government caring for those in need but getting out of the way and allowing free people to pursue their dreams,” Romney said. “Free people pursing free enterprises is the only way we’ll create a strong and growing middle class and the only way we’ll help people out of poverty.”

— Mitt Romney, speaking to Neil Cavuto on Fox News today

Yup. That’s right. Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton didn’t believe in free people and free enterprise. All presided over redistribution-of-wealth schemes of the sort that Romney warns against. 

Which is why George Romney made so little money in the ‘50s and ‘60s and why America’s economy and American society were so awful all those decades after we abandoned freedom of people and free enterprise after 1929, until George W. Bush restored some of our freedom and our free-enterprise system—but not enough of it.  No wonder George Romney left the auto industry for government.  He wanted to make some money!

We need to end this redistribution-of-wealth thing completely!  Forever! I don’t see why we have to tax people like Mitt Romney at all. Why does Romney want to reduce their taxes just 20% further?  I demand an answer! Free people pursing free enterprises is the only way we’ll create a strong and growing middle class.  Which is why we weren’t able to do that between the 1920s and the 2000s!
Poor Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and others so hampered by our non-free-enterprise system during the decades preceding 2001, toiling under Communist rule and longing for freedom and a non-redistributive economic system.

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Seriously, folks.  If Obama doesn’t remove this straw man from this economic-history savant’s arsenal of parading apparitions by the end of the day tomorrow, I’ll be really frustrated.

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Did Romney’s Foreign Policy Team Indicate That He Would Try to Establish Autocratic Puppet Regimes In the Middle East?

The headline on the Washington Post’s opening Web page was irresistible: “Romney aides: No Mideast turmoil if he were president.”  The headline of the actual article, by Philip Rucker, though, is headlined “Romney team sharpens attack on Obama’s foreign policy.” 

Both headings are accurate. Romney’s foreign policy team—drawn, apparently, entirely from the farthest-right faction of George W. Bush’s foreign policy advisors—issued a series of written statements yesterday.  And among them, if I understand correctly, is one in which they suggest that the Obama administration should have established a puppet government in Libya after Gadhafi fell last year. Oh, and probably one in Egypt, too.  And in Yemen, and in ….

Y’all know: Like the puppet government that these very same folks, then Bush administration officials, tried to establish in Iraq back in 2003.  The effort that worked out so well.  Remember?

It’s time now for Obama and the news media to make it far better known than it is now who Romney’s foreign policy team members are—and to remind people of what happened when last they directed this country’s foreign policy. 

As for the fact that Romney has delusions of autocratic grandeur, or at least of mystical powers over Middle Easterners to cause them to happily acquiesce to our efforts to control them, Romney himself is taking care of that just fine, thank you. 

And at least he’s finally making clear where all that extra money for defense spending will go.  If not where that money will come from.  

Romney’s sons all are too old to be subject to any new military draft necessitated by his and his policy team’s  desires, and his grandchildren all are very young.  So the Romney family is save.  Many other families, though, probably not so much.

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