Blow and Krugman

In “Election From Hell” Mr. Blow hears echoes of another political contest that pushed the bounds of extremism and ugliness.  Prof. Krugman, in “Remembrance of Booms Past,” makes note of Clinton I’s economic lessons for Clinton II.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Sometimes people are surprised, or even unsettled, by how sanguine I can be about the coming election. I sometimes say that it’s not that I have some magic foresight about the outcome — I don’t make predictions like that; anything could happen — but it is rather that I have been here before. One of the first elections I ever voted in had candidates who were even moreflawed and was even more of a circus. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

And there are eerie similarities that I can’t shake.

The Democrat, who had occupied the white-columned home of the executive during an earlier period of prosperity, had testified more than 15 times before grand jury investigations and had twice been tried, but never convicted, on felony charges.

The Republican, a divorcé, was a well-known racist and demagogue who tried to disavow his past and who once said his plan to deal with illegal immigration was to heavily fortify the Mexican-American border and round up and deport all illegal aliens.

As Bill Turque wrote in Newsweek at the time, the Republican was “attempting to run from his past by repackaging himself as a populist. His affable, game-show-host looks and just-folks manner have been insidiously successful in blunting the impact of a past pocked with racism, Jew-hating and revisionisms.”

Turque wrote that for thousands of “whites angry with hard times and high taxes, his is the ultimate ‘no bull’ campaign. His coded distillations of white economic and racial resentment are by now the most thoroughly decoded in American politics.”

The New York Times reported at the time that the Republican’s “evolution from a lifetime at the fringes of racial politics to a new life as an aspiring national politician is largely the result of his symbiotic relationship with broadcast journalism.” A Democratic leader complained about the media’s role in the Republican’s ascendance: “The media have made him a legitimate candidate.” The venerable Ted Koppel said at the time that television and the Republican candidate “were made for each other.”

A former newspaper editor called the Republican’s support “impenetrable,” cautioning that the Democrat depended on winning over members of his own party who had recently despised him. Some in the polling and pundit class even worried about a “hidden vote” for the Republican, which would come from a group who wouldn’t publicly say they supported him, but would vote for him on Election Day.

There were lingering questions about the sincerity of the Republican’s recently professed Christianity.

Writing about one of the Republican’s previous races, the author Tyler Bridges said that at his rallies supporters “were angry” and “they thrust their fists in the air, stomped their feet, and chanted his name over and over.” Bridges wrote that the rallies had an “us-versus-them atmosphere” in which “supporters frequently heckled reporters.”

One of the most memorable bumper stickers from the campaign was for the Democrat and read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” (Ironically, both candidates would later be convicted of crimes following F.B.I. investigations.)

The year was 1991. I was a college student in my home state of Louisiana. And the race was a gubernatorial runoff between the Democrat Edwin Edwards (who reportedly once counseled Bill Clinton on how to deal with the Gennifer Flowers scandal) and the Republican David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (who this year endorsed Donald Trump). It was the first gubernatorial election in which I voted.

Indeed, Edwards was such a brazen, unrepentant skirt chaser that he joked to a reporter during that campaign about similarities between him and Duke: “The only thing we have in common is we’re both wizards under the sheets.”

People called it the “election from hell” or the “race from hell,” depending on the person and the conversation. Voters had to choose the lesser of two evils, the same choice Bernie Sanders suggested this weekend that a Trump vs. Clinton contest would present. Some people were nervous and scared.

I’m recalling it now because the current race is reminiscent of it and because I think the outcome and lasting legacy of the Louisiana race may be instructive. In the end, Edwards won with a coalition of blacks and affluent, “business-oriented conservatives” in a record turnout for a state gubernatorial general election, but Duke did win the majority of the white vote.

Though he didn’t win, Duke’s imprint on the state was real. As The Times reported in 2014: “Two decades later, much of his campaign has merged with the political mainstream here, and rather than a bad memory from the past, Mr. Duke remains a window into some of the murkier currents in the state’s politics, where Republicans have sought and eventually won Mr. Duke’s voters, while turning their back on him.”

Whether or not Trump loses in November to “crooked Hillary,” as he has dubbed her, he may well be an important part of the future of his party. He has given his Republican supporters permission to vocalize their anti-otherness rage, and that will not easily be undone.

As a Louisiana boy experiencing a confounding sense of déjà vu, let me assure you: There is no way to un-cook the gumbo.

Trump took the dog whistles and turned them into klaxons.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Bill Clinton will occupy a doubly unique role in U.S. political history — not just as the first First Husband, but also as the first First Spouse who used to be president. Obviously he won’t spend his time baking cookies. So what will he do?

Last week Mrs. Clinton stirred up a flurry of comments by suggesting that Mr. Clinton would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” You can see why she might want to say that, since people still remember the good times that prevailed when he was in office. How his role might be defined in practice is much less clear.

But never mind. What I want to do right now is talk about the lessons the Clinton I boom actually holds for a potential Clinton II administration.

First of all, it really was a very impressive boom, and in a way it’s odd that Democrats don’t talk about it more. After all, Republicans constantly invoke the miracles of Saint Reagan to justify their faith in supply-side economics. Yet the Clinton-era expansion surpassed the Reagan economy in every dimension. Mr. Clinton not only presided over more job creation and faster economic growth, his time in office was also marked by something notably lacking in the Reagan era: a significant rise in the real wages of ordinary workers.

But why was the Clinton economy so good? It wasn’t because Mr. Clinton had a magic touch, although he did do a good job of responding to crises. Mostly, he had the good luck to hold office when good things were happening for reasons unrelated to politics.

Specifically, the 1990s were the decade in which American business finally figured out what to do with computers — the decade in which offices became networked, in which retailers like Wal-Mart learned to use information technology to manage inventories and coordinate with suppliers. This led to a surge in productivity, which had grown only sluggishly for the previous two decades.

The technology takeoff also helped fuel a surge in business investment, which in turn produced job creation at a pace that, by the late 1990s, brought America truly full employment. And full employment was the force behind the rising wages of the 1990s.

Oh, and yes, there was a technology bubble at the end of the decade, but that was a fairly minor part of the overall story — and because there wasn’t a big rise in private debt, the damage done when the tech bubble burst was much less than the wreckage left behind by the Bush-era housing bubble.

But back to the boom: What was Mr. Clinton’s role? Actually, it was fairly limited, since he didn’t cause the technology takeoff. On the other hand, his policies obviously didn’t get in the way of prosperity.

And it’s worth remembering that in 1993, when Mr. Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, Republicans uniformly predicted disaster. It will “kill the recovery and put us back in a recession,” predicted Newt Gingrich. It will put the economy “in the gutter,” declared John Kasich. None of that happened, which didn’t stop the same people from making the same predictions when President Obama raised taxes in 2013 – a move followed by the best job growth since the 1990s.

One big lesson of the Clinton boom, then, is that the conclusion conservatives want you to draw from their incessant Reaganolatry — that lavishing tax cuts on the rich is the key to prosperity, and that any rise in top tax rates will bring retribution from the invisible hand — is utterly false. Mrs. Clinton is currently proposing roughly a trillion dollars in additional taxes on the top 1 percent, to pay for new programs. If she takes office, and tries to implement that policy, the usual suspects will issue the usual dire warnings, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that her agenda would hurt the economy.

The other big lesson from the Clinton I boom is that while there are many ways policy makers can and should try to raise wages, the single most important thing policy can do to help workers is aim for full employment.

Unfortunately, we can’t count on another spontaneous surge in technology-driven private investment to drive job creation. But some kinds of private investment might grow rapidly if we take long-overdue steps to address climate change.

And in any case, not all productive investment is private. We desperately need to repair and upgrade our infrastructure; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow money incredibly cheaply. So there’s an overwhelming case for a surge in public investment – and one side benefit of such a surge would be full employment, which would help produce another era of rising wages.

So, will Bill Clinton play an important role if Mrs. Clinton wins? I have no idea, and don’t much care. But it will be important to remember what went right and why on Bill’s watch.

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