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It's the Economy Stupid!

It's the Economy Stupid                     Gerry OShea

"It's the economy stupid" is remembered as the succinct message James Carville  conveyed to  the Democratic Party workers during Bill Clinton's first campaign for the presidency in 1992. He felt that the campaign was wasting too much time focusing on esoteric issues of foreign and domestic policy.

Instead, he wanted those knocking on doors and indeed the wider national campaign to engage people on kitchen- table issues - jobs, salaries, taxes, education and healthcare. He stressed that these are the real challenges that impact people every day.

Carville was certainly not the first to appreciate this approach to a political campaign. When Jimmy Carter ran against the incumbent president, Gerald Ford, in 1976, he highlighted what he called the misery index which he claimed reflected poorly on his opponent. He explained that this measure of progress is derived by adding the unemployment rate to the national  inflation figure, and  Carter said that Ford had to answer for a rather forbidding combined misery number of close to 13%.

Historians of that period claim that the Democratic  emphasis on this negative statistic played an important part in Carter's narrow victory. Ironically, four years later in 1980 Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate, challenged people to use the same index in judging the Carter years. He asked whether people were better off  after a few years of a Democrat in charge in the White House - and, of course, Reagan won a tight election.

This stress on economic matters augurs well for President Trump as we face into the 2020 presidential race for the White House. The unemployment rate is very low and inflation has not surfaced as a problem. Mortgage rates , a major consideration for many families, have rarely ever been as favorable for borrowers and small family businesses can access  finance relatively easily.

Finally, about 20% of Americans - approximately 50 million people - own stocks, mostly vested in 401ks, and the stock market is booming. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has climbed over 20% so far in 2019.  The beneficiaries of the good times in Wall Street come mainly from the economic elite in society and tend to vote in high numbers.  There is no doubt that when they get their  quarterly financial reports many see the substantial increase in their investments as proof that Trump is doing a fine job.

With all this positive economic news, how come that the President's  approval rating as revealed in nearly all national polls rarely passes 45% and indeed mostly registers below that?

For some people the economy is indeed vibrant, but many in the middle class don't see any benefits for themselves or their families. Trump's budgets have delivered large financial bonuses to millionaires and others at the top of the earnings curve, but a promised improvement in the take-home pay of shop floor workers has not materialized.

 Conservative leaders promised that directing the bulk of the tax breaks to the rich and big corporations would result in a major economic stimulus with the benefits leading to a surge in business investments and the additional cash trickling down to all Americans. They further assured voters that the cost of the big giveaway to the rich would pay for itself by generating enhanced economic activity, leading to more money flowing to the IRS. In reality, true to the negative history of the debunked trickle-down theory of economics, the national deficit  has increased by a massive 1.4 trillion dollars, a bill that will have to be paid by future generations.

Affordable healthcare remains an important consideration for every family. Both parties agree that it was a major issue in the mid-term elections in November 2018 when Republicans were trounced and healthcare was identified as the gorilla policy issue impacting the results.

Donald Trump and the Republican leadership almost succeeded in dismantling the Affordable Care Act(ACA), better known as Obamacare, without any replacement proposal. However the ACA brought approximately twenty million people into health coverage and, very significantly for many families,  it barred insurance companies from refusing to include  pre-existing medical condition in their policies.

Obamacare is now popular and still the law of the land. All the Democratic  candidates for the presidency have promised that they will expand the ACA coverage or indeed replace it with a more radical proposal, a single-payer, medicare-for-all universal mandate.  By comparison, Mr. Trump promises to announce a new policy when he is re-elected. It is hard to believe that Republican candidates for the House and the Senate will not even have a policy  proposal to offer the electorate in this crucial economic area.

The healthcare debate favors Democrats and this will be a pivotal, dinner-table issue again when voters go to the polls next November.

Pro-life voters, people who want the Roe v Wade decision overturned, will rarely cast a ballot for a Democratic candidate who, assuredly, will argue for maintaining the present law and thus affirming  a woman's right to choose. Pro-lifers will not be guided by economic issues and can be relied on to cast their ballots for Republicans and they will provide an important boost for the President.

Most evangelicals are seemingly not influenced by the quality of a candidate's character. One would think that a thrice-married philanderer who has told thousands of lies since he won the White House would point them in a different direction. Not so! They see the liberal establishment as the enemy of their agenda, and the vast majority will continue to vote Republican, irrespective of monetary considerations - another significant voting bloc for Mr. Trump.

On the other side, the support of Black voters from all economic backgrounds remains a safe bet for the Democratic Party. This will certainly not change in 2020 as most African-Americans see the current president as a racist.

Global warming may not yet be a kitchen table concern but it could be a decisive issue in the November 2020 election. President Trump, against all the scientific evidence of impending weather disasters in sea and land, has pronounced the claims of major weather disasters ahead as bogus, and he has withdrawn the United States from the international Paris Climate Accord. For the first time in a presidential election, this issue is generating  major concerns, especially among young voters, and it is likely to boost Democrats who certainly do highlight the dire warnings of serious societal disruptions because of the world's continuing  dependence on fossil-fuels.

Back to Bill Clinton's strategy guru James Carville and his election wisdom. His dictum about the pre-eminence of economic issues retains credibility but perhaps a little less in these times of torrid emotions about impeachment  and doomsday climate threats .



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