David Brin: The GOP won’t run ON their record – they run FROM it

  • Published on September 19th, 2012

Let’s start with a simple wager.  During this election please count the number of times that Republican candidates actually run on their party’s record.

How often do they speak of their periods in power, which were far more extensive than the Democrats’?  Any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects?  Shouldn’t effective leaders brag about their past effectiveness?
Over the last twenty years, the Republicans often controlled all three branches of government. During that time the dems almost never controlled more than two branches –  for only four years, total. True, the dems did a lot in those short intervals and their record is a legitimate topic.
But isn’t the Republican’s actual record also fair game?  How often do you hear them mention the name George W. Bush?  As Peter Beinart points out in Newsweek, “Romney has tried to handle the Bush legacy the same way McCain did: by ignoring it.”
Ask your adamant-ostrich friends to name one unambiguous statistical metric of national health that went up as a direct result of Republican rule. They cannot. So, what is the GOP sales pitch? It amounts to ” Okay we’re terrible! Insane and corrupt. But Democrats are worse! So hire us again, no matter how awful we were!”

Only parts of that pitch are at all true.  But it is one heckuvan interesting sales campaign.

The story that statistics tell

We’ve become a people driven by assertions and truisms.  For example, the oft-spread notion that Democrats are squishy-compassionate, and therefore:
  • They are naive and inept at running a Pax Americana that can be agile and win at international realpolitik, and
  • Those “socialists” must do badly at encouraging growth in an entrepreneurial-competitive capitalist economy.
Would it surprise you that these truisms run diametrically opposite to fact?  I will deal with canard #1 in a week or two, by comparing the vastly different (like day and night) ways that democrats and republicans wage war or enhance Pax Americana influence.

Market forces

But let’s start with some basic comparisons of how markets, GDP and all that do under the two parties. I have asserted that the capitalist economy of the United States nearly always does better under Democratic presidencies and congresses than it does under Republican ones.  This flies into the face of the common propaganda nostrums credited by Fox viewers.
But see for yourself. Start with the statistics Bill Clinton cited:
Since 1960, Republicans have controlled the White House 28 years, and the Democrats 24. And in those years, Democratic administrations have created 42 million jobs, and Republican ones 24 million jobs. This, according to a Bloomberg analysis of BLS data, is accurate and true. It’s a devastating set of numbers – and by the way, the stock market has performed better during Democratic tenures as well, as another Bloomberg analysis showed that returns on investment under Democrats have done about nine times better than under Republicans.

real GDP growth, under Democrats and RepublicansGovernment debt increase under democrats and GOP
But let’s assume you folks are members of that dying race, wonk-citizens who are moved by facts.  Try this explication of economic growth vs debt under the two parties.  Do you still believe (against ALL evidence) that the GOP is the way to fight the deficit?

Or employment. In modern times every Democratic presidential administration left office with a lower unemployment rate than when they took office. The same would be true of Obama today. But only one Republican Administration has managed this accomplishment.  That fact is basic.  Devastating.  Absolutely verified and true.
And here is a more comprehensive “presidential economics” review, though dated (2004, but I hardly think GWB 2005-2009 offer much of a counterpoint) — and the author pledges to update the data before election night. He looks at some other social categories too, and the verdict is almost unanimous, across the charts of indicators.

So what does the GOP really want?

Not the health of competitive entrepreneural markets, that’s for sure.  No level playing field for startups. (Startup businesses always do better under dems.)
But this should be no surprise!  Long ago, Adam Smith recognized that the great foe of freedom and competition across the millennia was owner-oligarchy. The American Revolution was against feudalism, remember? Wealth is GREAT at enticing lively business competitionI have a little and I want to earn more. But like all good things (e.g. water, food, oxygen) it can become toxic if too narrowly concentrated.  Smith knew this.  Gaze across 6000 years and tell me you really think otherwise!
Discussing the return of oligarchy, several new books have focused on this phenomenon, with a mix of depressing and suprisingly hopeful insights.  These books, Inequality and Instability By James K. Galbraith, and Affluence & Influence By Martin Gilens, were reviewed by Pacific Standard:
“(Galbraith suggests that) we seem to have forgotten how to grow the economy except by increasing inequality. The result has been a series of bubbles, and bubbles always cause damage when they pop. Galbraith also trains his lens on Europe, and finds that the common assumption that Europe is “more equal” than the U.S. is untrue; precise measurements reveal that, aside from the handful of northern European social democracies, the opposite is true.”
The other book is more pessimistic:
“Surveying a 40-year period, he finds that legislative outcomes almost never correspond to the public opinion preferences of the poor (at least when their expressed interests differ from those of the rich), whereas they much more frequently match the policy preferences of the wealthiest 10 percent.”
There’s a lot in the review and even more in the books.  Get concerned.  And realize that when GOP rule always benefits the very top oligarchy and never benefits entrepreneurial or level-playing-field capitalism, perhaps sincere libertarians and conservatives should go dust off their copy of Wealth of Nations and read the actual words of the founder of the modern, Anglo-American Enlightenment that so transformed the world.

“All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. As soon, therefore, as they could find a method of consuming the whole value of their rents themselves, they had no disposition to share them with any other persons.”  — Adam Smith

(Originally appeareed at Contrary Brin.)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.