“I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems, but today does mark the beginning of the end,” declared Barack Obama after the 2008 presidential election.
Evidently, many Americans disagree. They overlook economic progress since 2008. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, results show the president’s job approval rating at 41 percent, a new low. “Roughly one-quarter of the respondents think the economy will improve over the next year, while 57 percent believe the U.S. is still in a recession, despite years of modest economic growth and robust stock-market gains” (The Wall Street Journal, March 12).
Many conservative critics argued the 2009 stimulus Recovery Act lacked fiscal common sense. They predicted mortgage rates zooming to 18 percent, as occurred during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
Moreover, 24-hour talk radio critics blasted the president for his alleged nonsense. With national debt spinning out of control in 2008, why increase with stimulus spending? Why flood the economy with government-printed money? Doesn’t it stand to reason that, when in debt, we belt-tighten and sequester funds, rather than spend more?
Such critics acted like Joseph’s ornery biblical brothers. The more Obama spun the stimulus “dream,” the more critics panned him, as did Joseph’s siblings who “when he told his dream to his brothers, only hated him the more” (Genesis 37:5).
Five years after President Obama’s confession that the Recovery Act would endure a hard slog before citizens saw positive results, the U.S. economy gained traction. Growth was first reported in the summer of 2009. Next, jobs increased in the spring 2010, though full-time employment still went missing in action. The stimulus package fixed 42,000 miles of roads. It gave tax cuts to 160 million workers. New home sales surged. Cars made in Detroit put the Big Three auto-makers on firm financial footing and saved suppliers from folding. Without the government’s bailout for Chrysler and GM, the Rust Belt would have caved into a financial black hole. Now a 4-year-old bullish stock market shatters records.
Uncle Sam is collecting handsomely on housing loans. “The payment,” reports The Wall Street Journal, “following a hugely profitable year, will increase the total dividends that Fannie and its smaller rival Freddie Mac have paid the government to around $192.5 billion. This amount exceeds the $187.5 billion in bailout money the U.S. Treasury lent them in 2009.
“The two companies, which were taken over by the government in 2008, became one of the most expensive legacies of the financial crisis. But they have returned profitability over the past two years as home prices have rebounded sharply” (“Fannie’s Bailout Milestone: Taxpayers Made Whole,” Feb. 22-23).
Ask citizens if the Recovery Act worked. Most shrug shoulders or say “no.” That’s because the stimulus is counter-intuitive; initially, it makes little sense. Moreover, media neglect to give Obama credit for deficit reductions.
President Obama followed George W. Bush whose promises sounded logical, especially after 9/11 when the nation wanted to hear no-nonsense anti-terrorist talk. Americans were assured of “mission accomplished” in Iraq. Then, Katrina roused her fury, and we heard “heck of a job.” Next, the housing bubble burst, which took down Wall Street banks that were “too big to fail.” Free-market advocates cringed at having to rescue banks with TARP, allowing the government to exert partial control of Wall Street. These puzzling securities produced phony paper profits, which led to massive fraud.
In response, some Americans endorsed Obama’s stimulus package. They gambled on what their brains denied — increased debt, coupled with increased spending, would allow the U.S. to escape the economic tailspin. It did!
Does history repeat itself? In 1911, Ida Tarbell — then dean of investigative reporters — questioned Republicans who defended a tariff bill. It benefited the few but robbed the masses. Tarbell wrote a series of muck-racking articles exposing the greedy GOP. This revealed how “the same old circus, the same old gilded chariots, the same old clowns” had managed to pull the wool over Americans eyes.
In 2008, the U.S. elected a new president. President Obama inherited a mismanaged circus and cleaned it up. Now, the economy generates revenue to pay bills, lowers national debt and structures financial dividends.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed at making God’s history come alive.