As 2015 commences, America is moving steadily toward full employment for the first time since a Democrat last occupied the White House, during the Clinton presidency. The past 12 months marked the single strongest year of job increases since 1999, with unemployment down from 7 percent to 5.8 percent. The national economy is currently growing at an annual rate well above 4 percent, the Dow Jones average has surged above 18,000, and consumer confidence has reached its highest level since 2007 – before the onset of the Great Recession.
Although too many Americans remain unemployed or underemployed, and wages have not yet begun to reap the share of productivity that workers deserve, the economic news is nevertheless encouraging – except to the right-wing politicians and pundits whose predictions of recession, joblessness, and generalized doom have been proved entirely wrong.
For years now, the most prominent figures on the American right – from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to Rush Limbaugh, George Will, and Sean Hannity, along with every right-wing think tank and media outlet – have warned the public that the tax, health care, and spending policies of the Obama administration were killing jobs and wrecking the economy.
Meanwhile, their own agenda of political obstruction and austerity policies did much to harm the economy and employment, especially when they drove debate over the budget and debt ceiling toward the brink of default – and insisted on enormous cuts in spending by the federal, state, and local governments. As recently as last spring, the Republican line recited by Will and Limbaugh — and parroted by Boehner and McConnell — was that Obamacare would surely destroy at least 2 million jobs.
Last February, Boehner’s office tweeted that the Affordable Care Act is “expected to destroy 2.3 million jobs.” On the radio, Limbaugh barked that the implementation of health care reform would cost “2.5 million jobs, minimum,” which he called “a literal tragedy for the country.” In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal agreed that Obamacare is “a job destroyer.” And on Fox News, Charles Krauthammer gloated that this White House unemployment debacle would be “emblazoned on the tombstone of liberalism.”
Overblown rhetoric aside, the 2 million-plus figure came from a Congressional Budget Office report, which the Republicans then distorted beyond recognition to scare and depress the public. But that episode was only one example among many of partisan trash-talking about the economy — a tactic that dates back at least to the first Clinton budget in 1993, when congressional Republicans predicted a severe recession or worse. (They were totally wrong then, too.)
In fact, the deep thinkers at the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute made similarly frightening predictions when President Obama and the Democrats in Congress insisted on letting the Bush tax cuts expire and limiting deductions for the wealthiest taxpayers. A Heritage tax expert said ominously that “we’re going to have a slower-growing economy, we’re going to have fewer jobs, less opportunity for Americans of all income levels.”
Yet while the right-wing doomsaying about Obama and Obamacare continued to amplify right through the midterm elections — with little salutary contradiction from mainstream media — the economy has kept improving until the facts can no longer be ignored. So far, the president has 12 million jobs to his credit and a string of additional accomplishments, including millions of American families now enjoying health insurance — without any detectable damaging impact on prices, growth, or employment.
The question that the country now faces is whether Republican control of both the Senate and the House will encourage still more right-wing debt brinksmanship – or whether McConnell and Boehner can enforce a newfound moderation on their most addled members. Perhaps this time, if Republican mischief hinders full recovery, the public will understand where to lay blame.