Better Late Than Never
Granted, if a year ago Bush had acknowledged the recession that's been tearing a bloody swath through our economy for the past 12 months, things would probably be the same as they are now.
But there's something more than vaguely despicable about Bush finally acknowledging this within the last 50 days of an administration that's been trying to convince us of the exact opposite, conceding no more than "slowdowns" that are the natural ebb and flow of the national economy.
On the one hand, you have to understand Bush's reluctance to officially acknowledge a national state of recession. Even a complete tool like Bush knows that Wall Street is prone to wild swings every time Warren Buffet or Donald Trump fart in public. The wild, drunken losses and gains of the Dow Jones Industrial and Mercantile Averages in the latter half of this year are proof of that.
But Gerald Ford, in the opening remarks of his first State of the Union Address in 1975, wasn't very concerned about Wall Street's volatility when he said,
I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good: Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow. This year's Federal deficit will be about $30 billion; next year's probably $45 billion. The national debt will rise to over $500 billion. Our plant capacity and productivity are not increasing fast enough. We depend on others for essential energy. Some people question their Government's ability to make hard decisions and stick with them; they expect Washington politics as usual.
Ford's Address before a joint assembly of Congress on January 15th 1975 goes back to nearly 34 years but the numbers President Ford mentioned, the ruinous legacy left to him by Richard Nixon, look absurdly small by conspicuous relief. A national deficit of $30-45 billion? A national debt of half a trillion? Oh, if only we got off that easy under Bush!
The only number referenced by Mr. Ford that appears larger than today's 6.7% unemployment rate is the 8.1% civilian unemployment rate in January 1975. But consider that the population of the United States back in 1975 was just under 216,000,000. An 8.1% unemployment rate with a civilian work force of 93,775,000 would've translated to 7,929,000 out of work.
The population of the United States is now at more or less 300,000,000. The supposedly lower 6.7 unemployment rate announced just today is another way of saying that 10,300,000 people who've lost their jobs (well over half a million last month alone). That's almost 2,500,000 more jobless people than we had back in 1975, which is generally acknowledged as the worst jobless rate in recent history until the end of the Bush administration. It only stands to reason that the bigger a population gets, even a modest ratio of unemployment will result in greater numbers of jobless. But never in this generation has America ever seen 533,000 jobs evaporate in the blink of an eye.
The difference is that even under the darkest, meanest days of the Nixon administration, outsourcing of American jobs to India and China, for decades the two most populous nations on earth, wasn't an issue. NAFTA wasn't even a gleam in Bill Clinton's eye and we didn't have a trade imbalance with China or any other country that even approaches the cartoonish one that we see with China nowadays. The government also didn't balloon in size under Nixon or Ford as under Bush (17,000 government jobs were created and filled in May 2008 alone.).
The scary thing to remember is that the unemployment rate up until Nixon's resignation in early August of 1974 held at a steady 5.1-5.5%, well under the dreaded 6% mark. By January of 1975, when his successor addressed Congress and the American people, it was up to 8.1 (peaking to 9.0) and wouldn't go back down to normal numbers until a year and a half into Jimmy Carter's administration.
To his credit, Ford did take steps to cut inflation (although his misguided mantra for more tax cuts and the rationale behind it is identical to ones we've been hearing these last eight years) but Ford was handed a huge mess at a time when Richard Nixon had poisoned the well for the Republican Party for two decades.
I fear this is what's awaiting President-Elect Obama. As Louis the XIV once famously said, "Apres moi, le deluge." After me, the deluge. Who would ever think that things would actually get worse after Nixon left office? Who would ever think that things could actually go from bad to worse to worst after Bush leaves office?
Bush's cruelly-belated acknowledgment of the recession may be a political ploy to poison the well. With Obama entering the White House in January, his name will be synonymous with economic ruin, trillions in bailouts, a failing housing and auto market and an elevated debt ceiling now about to break $12 trillion.
So if and when things get worse in the first year or two of Obama's administration, let's cut the guy a break and remember how this started, on whose watch and why before we go to the polls on Super Tuesday 2012. The Titanic also didn't finish turning before it struck the iceberg.