One thing about the current generation of conservatives: Getting mugged by reality hasn’t changed the way they look at the world. We’ve just come through a calamitous financial collapse — caused by reckless Wall Street gambling and toothless watchdogs — that triggered a Great Recession and doubled the U.S. national debt. The collapse is the greatest cause of large deficits, but conservatives act as if the deficits caused the collapse.
A recent stop in London revealed that this isn’t just a Tea Party phenomenon. There, the new Tory-dominated coalition led by David Cameron looks and sounds like a sprightlier offshoot of House Speaker John Boehner’s troops. Cameron has set out on a forced march for fiscal retrenchment, imposing deep and immediate spending cuts (and tax increases) to bring deficits down in Britain. This plan is sold with a jaunty recital of conservative gospel: The economy has begun to recover, and action on deficit reduction will boost the confidence of business and consumers. The resulting revival, it is argued, will generate more than enough private-sector jobs to make up for those lost in the public sector.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.
Yet the 2010 fourth-quarter economic numbers revealed that the British economy was declining, not growing. The government went from adding jobs to shedding them. And consumer confidence has collapsed since Cameron and his troops started chanting that the country “was broke.” Cameron dismissed the results, declared “war on the enemies of enterprise” and insisted that he would carry on. The magic of what Paul Krugman calls the “confidence fairy” and private-sector growth would overcome all.
In Washington, Boehner’s caucus exhibits the same zealotry. “The American people want us to cut spending,” the GOP speaker repeats, ignoring the vast majority of polls that show Americans care far more about jobs and the economy. We will “cut and grow,” is the new conservative message. Get government out of the way and the economy will blossom.
Yet Goldman Sachs projected this month that the deep cuts in domestic programs in the 2010 budget passed by the House could cut our growth rate in half. John McCain’s former economic adviser, Mark Zandi, projected a loss of 700,000 jobs. If the budget cuts cost federal jobs, said Boehner, sounding like a latter-day Marie Antoinette, “so be it.” He believes the private sector will more than make up for the loss of such jobs.
Remarkably, President Obama has once more been absent without leave. In his State of the Union address, he hailed the recovery and turned to deficit reduction. A few weeks later, he said it was time to “live within our means.” He hasn’t drawn a line against short-term cuts, choosing instead to argue for cutting less.
In the run-up to the 2010 elections, the administration assumed that job growth was picking up (remember “Recovery Summer”). The Election Day “shellacking” stemmed largely from the fact that voters didn’t see the jobs and didn’t think the White House had a clear view on how to create them.