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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Great Recession and the Long Recession

In trying to assign responsibility for the financial meltdown of 2008 and the Great Recession that has followed, Democrats sometimes forget what they were saying before September of 2008: that middle-class Americans were losing ground throughout the two terms of the Bush administration.
Ron Brownstein reminds us of the bigger picture in a column utilizing new Census data. The recent economic troubles, he notes, simply exacerbated a already bad situation for all but the wealthiest Americans:

From 2000 through 2009, the Census Bureau found, the median income (measured in inflation-adjusted dollars) declined by 5 percent for white families, 8 percent for Hispanic families, and more than 11 percent for African-American families. That’s almost unimaginable over an entire decade. From 1991 through 2000 (again in inflation-adjusted dollars) it had risen by 13 percent for whites, 19 percent for Hispanics, and 28 percent for African-Americans.
Similarly, the total number of Americans in poverty increased by nearly 12 million in the last decade, more than obliterating the 4.1 million reduction during the 1990s. Especially troubling is that the number of poor children jumped by 3.9 million — again, more than erasing the 2.8 million decline during the 1990s.

No wonder even Republicans don’t much like to tout the 2000s as a period of great progress, preferring to go back to a fictional version of the 1980s for inspiration. But any comparison of the economic records of the 1990s and the 2000s should create some pretty obvious implications for current policy debates, as Brownstein suggests:

It’s worth noting that this dismal performance occurred almost entirely after the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were in place. That record offers little reason for confidence that extending the tax cuts will ignite recovery, as their advocates argue. The economy produced more vibrant and broadly shared growth in the 1990s after Bill Clinton raised taxes than it did after Bush cut them. That doesn’t mean that tax hikes are a panacea; but it certainly suggests that tax cuts are not.

The only thing that would surely be accomplished by making the high-end Bush tax cuts permanent is to accelerate even more the ever-growing inequality of the 2000s. And if Democrats cannot find a way to criticize inequality without engaging in the kind of “class warfare” that turns off some middle-class voters, they certainly aren’t trying very hard. Most Americans know it’s been a long time since they’ve gained any economic ground, and counting once again on bribing the wealthiest Americans–those the GOP refers to as “job creators”–to lift the economy is a scam that should get easier and easier to expose.

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