In last week's debate, Carly Fiorina received a question that no Republican candidate could possibly answer:
In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you'll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?
And because there was no good answer, Fiorina simply chose not to offer one. After briefly appearing stunned by the truth--as Republicans often are--she told a story about a woman she'd met, offered some platitudes about what needs to be done, and then, as any good Republican would, plumb rejected the fact-based premise of the question itself, claiming: "Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats." And, really, what else could she or any Republican have done? When the truth hurts, shift to truthiness.
In remarks made before this most recent Republican debate, Hillary Clinton offered a bit of preemptive sympathy for the predicament in which Fiorina found herself: "It must be difficult preparing for debates knowing that when you have a Democrat in the White House, the economy does better."
It's still "the economy, stupid." That hasn't changed. When Democrats remember that fact, they win. In order to win, they must offer voters a choice between their economic vision and that of their Republican opponents. They must remind voters which party has done a better job when given the opportunity to implement their economic vision.
In 1993 Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress passed--without a single Republican vote--a budget that raised taxes on high incomes while cutting government spending, most significantly in the area of defense. Republicans howled. I'll ask you to remember then-Senator Phil Gramm's prediction: "I believe this program is going to make the economy weak. I believe hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs. I believe Bill Clinton will be one of those people." Sen. Gramm was wrong. On each of those counts.
From Carly Fiorina all the way across that debate stage, today's Republicans all sound like, well, Phil Gramm. They all claim that cutting taxes on the rich will bring prosperity to everyone, yet reality-based analyses show that each of their tax plans would simply pile on mountains of debt. Fiorina also claimed that regulations kill jobs, the economy, and Girl Scouts (well, two out of three, at least). Of course, if that were true, the economy would certainly have performed worse under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama than during the anti-regulatory administration of George W. Bush. If you think that's true, I'd be happy to sell you tickets for a tour of the Phil Gramm Presidential Library.
History matters, and past performance is, in fact, indicative of future results. If a Republican wins the White House next year, he or she will almost certainly have House and Senate majorities. They will be able to implement whatever taxing and spending priorities they want--even without changing the filibuster rules--because the reconciliation process means a simple majority in the Senate is enough to win those kinds of votes.
It matters that conservative Republicans have held the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress exactly twice in the last century (I'm not counting the two years where the very moderate President Eisenhower had razor-thin Republican majorities), and that those periods resulted in the two worst economic crashes of that century: The Great Depression and the Great Recession that began in 2008. Even if we take out the Depression and just start with Harry Truman, the economy has performed noticeably better under Democratic than Republican presidents by any number of measures: real G.D.P. growth, jobs added, hours worked, declines in the unemployment rate, growth in real median family income, not to mention stock prices and corporate profits. It's worth noting that these results occurred even though incoming Democratic presidents inherited weaker economies than did their Republican counterparts during these years. Democratic presidents make things better for employers, employees, and shareholders.
Should we take out Truman and Eisenhower? Fine. The numbers since 1961, when JFK took office, also show stronger job creation under Democratic than Republican presidents. A half-century too long for you? OK, over the past quarter-century, we've had three two-term presidents, and the one Republican was the worst of the three. Bill Clinton's presidency saw stronger job growth than not only George W. Bush's, but also that of his father, as well as Presidents Nixon, Ford, Eisenhower, and, yes, the sainted Reagan--not only in the raw number of jobs created, but on a percentage basis as well.
When President Obama came into office, our economy was shedding three quarters of a million jobs per month thanks to the crash of 2008, yet the trend started improving immediately after he and Congressional Democrats passed the stimulus, and our economy started adding jobs even before the end of his first year. The last three years have seen the most jobs created of any three-year period in the past fifteen. In between those two job-creating Democrats, George W. Bush presided over eight years during which our economy lost almost half a million private sector jobs. Yes, that's right. Lost. History matters.
Hillary Clinton summed it up nicely:
For 35 years, Republicans have argued that if we give more wealth to those at the top - by cutting their taxes and letting big corporations write their own rules - it will trickle down, it will trickle down to everyone else.
Yet every time they have a chance to try that approach, it explodes the national debt, concentrates wealth even more, and does practically nothing to help hard-working Americans.
Twice now in the past 20 years, a Democratic president has had to come in and clean up the mess. I think the results speak for themselves.
Have Democratic presidents been perfect? Of course not. Have they vanquished economic inequality and created paradise on earth? No president can. However, Democrats have a positive record to run on: A record of being the better party on job creation, economic growth, and improving the lives of Americans of every strata. Republicans have none of the above. Whoever he or she is, if the Democratic nominee can make this election a choice between them, it should be no contest at all.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos. Links available at the original.