Midnight Again in America
Yes, it's midnight again in America.
Obama, in fact, is the only president other than Herbert Hoover to preside over an economy that shrank in real terms during his first term. And Hoover, as I recall, was not re-elected. Roosevelt's margin of electoral votes was 472 to 42.
It is thus mindboggling to see Obama re-elected at all, much less by a margin of 332 to 206. It's been midnight for the economy since Obama took office, and nothing he has proposed for his second term suggests that things will be any different. If anything, they'll be worse, with the prospect of increased taxation, further tightening of job-killing regulation, and continued hostility toward the business community.
The Congressional Budget Office is already telling us that 2013 will be a rough year. Failure to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff would plunge the country into a recession, with unemployment rising to 9.1%. Combined with tax increases embedded in ObamaCare that take effect Jan. 1, marginal rates on investment income will rise from 15% to 44%. That tripling of taxes on dividend and interest income combined with a 56% tax increase on capital gains will have dire effects on the economy. Increased taxes will discourage entrepreneurship and risk-taking, drain capital from the economy that would otherwise be reinvested in expansion, and raise the cost of capital for enterprises of all kinds.
And yet Obama's immediate reaction to calls for compromise was a threat to veto any budget legislation that fails to raise taxes on the rich. Despite the fact that those tax increases would not raise significant revenues, the president clings to the idea of soaking the rich "for reasons of fairness." The rich are rich, as a rule, because they are the most productive members of society. So let's make them less rich so they will produce less. It's not fair that they are better at what they do than the rest of us are. That spiteful rationale seems to underlie much of Obama's thinking on the budget.
That is why the current economic consensus, even if we somehow avoid the fiscal cliff, is for economic growth of 2% well into the future. At current rates of increase, it will take another two years for the number of jobs to reach the high in 2007. But with a larger population and millions of young people entering the labor force each year, the unemployment rate, as opposed to the sheer number of jobs, will remain elevated indefinitely. Absent a significant shift toward pro-growth policies, something that seems unlikely, the new normal of high unemployment will continue throughout Obama's second term.
It is ironic that the young, who again supported Obama in large numbers, will be the ones most harmed by his anti-growth agenda. For those currently unemployed or underemployed, lifetime earnings, retirement savings, and opportunities for advancement will be permanently diminished by the same policies that made Obama so appealing to them in the campaign. Shouting that the rich can afford to pay "a little more" sounds reasonable enough to those who are not paying taxes of any kind, as does the argument that wealth should spread out from the middle, not trickle down. Unfortunately, the fact is that new job-creation does trickle down. The single mom earning $30,000 a year saves and invests nothing other than what is placed in her 401(k), and even that is often withdrawn and spent. On the other hand, the small business owner earning $750,000 reinvests the bulk of after-tax earnings in the business.
Obama's new normal of 8% unemployment is harming every American, but those at the bottom are especially hard-hit. Millions are now forced to choose between welfare and subsistence wages of $7.50 an hour in the service industry. And despite the campaign demagoguery, it is Obama who has forced them to make that choice.
When people in the Reagan campaign declared that it was "morning again in America," they had the facts to back it up. It was true, as the campaign asserted, that "more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history." That is not the case today. As of September, 822,000 fewer Americans had permanent jobs than when Obama took office. In 1984, it was true that "nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes." Under Obama, new home sales reached an all-time low in 2011 (303,000). In September 2012, when Obama was boasting of a recovering economy, the annualized rate of new home sales was running at 389,000; in the summer of 1984, under President Reagan, it was 730,000.
It was also true in 1984 that "this afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married." But under Obama, as reported on November 10, 2012, the marriage rate in America has "dropped drastically." The percentage of Americans over 18 who are married has declined from72% in 1960 to 51% in 2010, and the decline appears to have accelerated under Obama. It dropped by 5% in the first year of his presidency alone.
"Morning again" included something else that does not apply to Obama. It stated that America was better than in the past because President Reagan had exerted "leadership." That is a word that did not appear in Obama's ads or speeches in the 2012 campaign. It would have been risible if it had.
In the 2012 campaign, Obama did not run on his record. He ran on the idea that he had inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression, and so it would take "a bit more time" to get things working again. Reagan also inherited a severe recession, one worse in many respects than that of 2008. But Reagan did not run on excuses. He ran on his record. The same thing can be said for George W. Bush, and for Bill Clinton as well. Both inherited recessions, both oversaw impressive recoveries, and both were in a position to run for re-election on their records. Obama ran on excuses and a shameless appeal to racial minorities and other special interest groups.
After this election, no one can honestly say that it's morning again in America. What follows Obama's re-election is more of the same: more class warfare, more regulation, more handouts to special interests, more economic stagnation, and more Americans out of work.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).