Politics: A Never-Ending Game of 'Hot Potato'
Warning: What you are about to read is a deeply cynical view of the 2012 election. If you're looking for puppies and rainbows, check back with me another time.
Many conservatives feel like this is the most important election in our lifetimes because we desperately need to reverse the damage done by the Obama administration and get the economy moving again.
Indeed, each of the remaining
Now, I do in fact hold onto the view that presidents matter. But this is a more controversial view among conservatives than one might think, at least when it comes to economic policy. When looked at from the proper altitude, the notion that the president "runs" the economy is fairly ridiculous. The president doesn't have a "Create Jobs" button on his desk he can press.
But he does have a whole bunch of monkey wrenches he can throw into the economic machinery. Like a drunk blind guy with a blowtorch: there are infinite possibilities for making things worse, far fewer for making them better.
What is not controversial is that FDR got the political credit for ending the Depression, even though it really didn't end until he stopped trying to fix it, and the economy didn't boom until after he died. And, of course, Hoover got the blame for starting the Great Depression because it happened on his watch. To this day,
Similarly, liberals continue to believe that big government policies are effective in no small part because they think FDR fixed the economy with the New Deal.
Here's the problem: If you look around the world, it turns out that whichever party came in to "fix" the Great Depression, after it was well under way, got credit for ending it. And whoever was in power when it started got the blame.
In 1932, American voters threw out the Republicans and the economy improved, so voters rewarded the Democrats. "In
And so on. Whoever happened to be at the switch when things got a little better got rewarded. Bartels argues that if the recession of 1938 had come two years earlier during the 1936 presidential election -- allegedly the most ideologically realigning election of the 20th century -- FDR would almost certainly have been a one-termer. Similarly, if energy prices and the economy had improved late in 1980,
And while, President Obama is responsible for many bad policies, right now it seems his fate is directly related to the price of gas.
The lesson for 2012, for cynics at least, is not that Republicans should vote for
Now obviously it's all more complicated than this. Presidents do in fact do things that affect the long-term trajectory of the economy, for good or for ill. And they do other things that are very important too (Indeed, the idea that we elect presidents to "run" the economy is a very recent notion).
Still, there's reason to believe that ideological realignments in this country are not necessarily the product of careful analysis and rigorous reasoning. Rather, they are the result of people assigning blame to the guy that just happens to be in charge when the data hits the fan.
It's not exactly a St. Crispin's Day speech for partisans on either side, but it is a reason to care who wins, at least a little.
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Politics: A Never-Ending Game of 'Hot Potato' | Politics
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