Watching last night’s Republican debate was a corrosive experience, depressing and infuriating. I didn’t watch it last night–there were basketball games to watch–but I did record it and watch it this morning. It’s not just the egos on display, not just the personal attacks, not just the usual politicians’ blather. I’m used to that. I usually think it’s pretty funny. It wasn’t until this morning when I read this article on Vox.com that I put my finger on it. The Republican candidates were describing a world that doesn’t exist.
Of course, I understand that that many Republicans believe that the seven years of the Obama Presidency have reduced the United States to a dystopic nightmare hellscape. The Oscar nominations just came out, and Mad Max: Fury Road is up for Best Picture. My impression is, that’s what they think the US is now, a bleak desert where water is money and Charlize Theron only has one arm, and is pursued by a bad guy in a mask. I mean, I get that the candidates are trying to replace Obama; of course they need to make the case that they will do a better job than he has. But they sounded like a bunch of dopes last night.
Let’s start with the absolutely obvious: the US economy was in free-fall when President Obama took office and it isn’t anymore. That’s reality. Not even a point worth debating. We all remember 2008. In case we forgot, The Big Short is also up for Best Picture. I’ll grant that Presidents don’t have all that much power to grow or contract the economy, but this President did ask for an $832 billion stimulus, which created or saved 1.2 million jobs every year for five years, and which prevented the great recession from turning into The Great Depression: The Sequel. Was some of the stimulus money misspent? Of course it was. It still worked; not as well as it might have worked, because it was never big enough. But well enough.
We can argue over whether a neo-Keynesian stimulus is an effective way to jump-start an economy trapped in a demand-side recession (hint: yes, it is), but what we can’t argue with is the simple fact that right now, in 2016, the economy is doing pretty darned well. The US GDP is up nearly nine percent since the first quarter of 2008. The US has added more jobs than the rest of the advanced world combined in that period. The deficit has declined; if current trends continue, the next President will be in a position to pay down the national debt. Are there still economic problems in the US? Of course there are. Labor participation is a concern, as is income inequality. But the Republicans, last night, were saying things like ‘the United States cannot survive eight more years like the last eight.” That’s just so much fatuous claptrap.
The Vox.com article looks at foreign policy, a major focus of last night’s debate. And again, the candidates kept describing things that are just not true.
“ISIS is stronger than ever, and poses an existential threat to the United States.”
ISIS has lost nearly half of the territory it once controlled, and much of its leadership. The San Bernandino terrorist event killed fourteen people. That’s a terrible tragedy. It’s also more or less the same number of kids killed annually in high school football games (12, last year). It’s fewer than the number of people killed by champagne corks (24 last year). It’s fewer than the number of people killed by blunt force trauma in incidents involving cows (20 last year). Falling off horses is a bigger threat to the American public than acts of domestic terrorism. Yes, ISIS is dangerous, and US foreign policy needs to continue to focus on reducing its power. Existential threat? Please.
“The recent capture of a Navy boat by Iran proves how bad the nuclear deal was.”
Okay, so a Navy boat ran out of gas and drifted into Iranian territorial waters. The 10 sailors aboard were captured by Iranian forces, and held for one day. Because of the diplomatic ties we established during the nuclear deal, we were able to retrieve them without further incident. Some of the photos the Iranians took were kind of embarrassing. That’s all. But, boy howdy, the Republican candidates couldn’t talk about it enough. See! Proof! Iran! Bad! They made themselves look ridiculous, but what is not ridiculous is this thought: if most of the Republicans running for President right now actually won, we would almost immediately find ourselves at war with Iran. For no legitimate reason.
Jeb Bush warned about China and Russia. “China, Russia [are] advancing their agenda at warp speed. And we pull back. As president of the united States I will be a commander-in-chief that have the back of the military. We will rebuild the military to make sure it is a solid force.”
Jeb! was supposed to be the smart one. Anyway, this is all nonsense. Russia is caught in a military quagmire in eastern Ukraine, and its economy is in freefall. Essentially, Russia right now is a gas station with an army; aside from selling carbon fuels, Russia has almost no industrial base. China’s biggest stock market keeps shutting down. China has some very hard choices to make, with unprofitable state-owned domestic industries that probably need to be shut down, at the risk of a major recession.
There is zero evidence that China poses a military threat to the US, though. Zero. In fact, China is a US trade partner and ally, a very good thing, because China is the one effective power on earth who can talk sense to Asia’s crazy nephew in North Korea. In the meantime, under Barack Obama, the US military continued to enjoy more funding than the next nine countries’ militaries on earth, combined. Can I also say that I enjoyed Ben Carson’s description of the dangers of an EMP attack. I’ve seen those movies too. Let’s also not forget how dangerous those aliens look in the previews for Independence Day II. Not sure a Macbook virus can slow ’em down this time!
What really worries me is not ‘American weakness under the feckless leadership of Barack Obama.’ They’re running for President; they have to say silly things, sometimes. I also have my differences with Obama’s foreign policy, but ‘weakening America’ doesn’t make the list. What really worries me is that this kind of alarmist hooey appeals to a significant percentage of the electorate. I know a lot of political talk is drivel. But it should, occasionally, involve something other than drivel; some sensible analysis of the actual state of our actual union.
At least, open a window and look around. You’ll see a country that’s doing pretty well. We’re still lucky that way, we Americans.