Ironic that the higher the stock market soars, the more critics blame President Obama for a sluggish economy. The president counters, pointing to an overall fiscal trajectory on the right track. Factories reeling from the Great Recession now fill orders at a record clip. Apartments are hard to find. Office vacancies are rare. Unemployment continues to fall. Wall Street no longer sputters like a locked-up car motor damaged irreparably. Our nation has survived the 2008 financial crisis of the Bush II presidency.
Financier Roger Altman sides with President Obama against his critics. Seven years after the Great Recession, the national mood is still more sullen than sunny about the economy, Altman admits. General financial trends, however, are very encouraging, reports this former deputy secretary of the treasury during the Clinton presidency.
Financial growth outlook is good, declares Altman. “Goldman Sachs and many private-sector forecasters project a 3.3 percent growth rate for the remainder of 2014,” he writes. The first half of 2014 saw the best job-creation rate in 15 years. Total household wealth and private employment surpassed 2008 levels last year. Bank loans to businesses exceeded previous highs this year. And income growth will soon improve, too. America is finally returning to where it was seven years ago (Time Magazine, “Surprise: The Economy Isn’t as Bad as You Think,” July 28).
Still, Republican critics give low marks to the economy’s improvement. Their tussles with President Obama resemble friction that flared during our Republic’s early days. Then James Madison teamed with Thomas Jefferson to battle Alexander Hamilton, who favored establishing a national bank to consolidate debt and pay overseas lenders.
Jefferson and Madison rejected a national bank because it symbolized free-market greed and the government’s over-reach into finances best left to states. Hamilton proposed a national bank to act like the Federal Reserve does today: provide efficient means for the government to borrow and deposit money; control lending and borrowing rates; regulate the money supply; and serve as a depository of government tax revenues.
Even though the recovery gains momentum, critics harp on what’s lethargic in the national economy. They avoid thanking President Obama for instituting fiscal policies that rescued the U.S. from the Great Recession. Sounding like “devious people who spread quarrels” (Proverbs 16:28), political conservatives complain that the recovery’s upsurge is weak.
Yammering about financial soft spots isn’t a new political ploy. It was tried after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second term 1936 landslide victory against Republican challenger Alf Landon.
FDR’s fiscal policies since 1933 stimulated a stock market which had hit rock bottom. Instead of thanking the president, investors who made-up 1 percent of wealthiest Americans excoriated him. They detested Roosevelt.
Journalist Marquis Childs, writing a 1936 article for Harper’s Magazine titled “They Hate Roosevelt,” describes Republicans’ diatribes. “It is a passion, a fury, that is wholly unreasoning ... a consuming personal hatred of President Roosevelt and, to an almost equal degree, of Mrs. Roosevelt,” reported Childs.
“It permeates, in greater or less degree, the whole upper stratum of American society,” wrote Childs. Certainly, “the majority of those who rail against the president have to a large extent had their incomes restored and their bank balances replenished since the low point of March, 1933.” Inexplicably, “the larger the house, the more numerous the servants, the more resplendent the linen and silver, the more scathing is likely to be the indictment of the president.”
Speed up U.S. history from the New Deal era to the Obama presidency. Conservative beneficiaries of the stock market’s record closes grouse about government regulation. They naively assume that unchecked consumption is good for Americans, whereas it leads to corrupt crony capitalism. Free market economics don’t automatically work for the benefit of all. A regulatory guiding hand is necessary. Acting like NFL officials, Wall Street’s referees make sure the financial game is played fairly and efficiently so that financial outcomes benefit investors across the board — titans and modest investors.
In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama chastised the Supreme Court for becoming chummy with Big Business contributors, reversing “a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”
Let us listen and take heed to Shakespeare’s wisdom. He judged the worst sin to be ingratitude. Ingrates bite the hand that financially feeds their growing portfolios.
The Bard also warned against connivers such as Iago in “Othello,” who harbor no music in their souls. Ignore critics’ bombast. Their noisy barking against the rising economy shows ingratitude for a stock market, which amid occasional corrections, continues to hum along.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.