The broader significance of Michael Steele’s confusion on jobs

THE BROADER SIGNIFICANCE OF MICHAEL STEELE’S CONFUSION ON JOBS…. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spoke to CNBC earlier — I feel like we haven’t seen him in a while, and I’m glad he’s back — struggling to explain the Republican approach to job creation.

Of particular interest, Steele suggested the economy would improve if only we’d go back to the Bush/Cheney policies. “George Bush created a lot of jobs,” the RNC chairman insisted. Challenged on whether the claim made any sense at all, Steele added, “I think jobs were created. I’m almost confident about that. And I think the markets reflect that.”

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As much as I enjoyed the phrase “I’m almost confident about that,” it’s hard to overstate how ridiculous Steele’s comments were. George Bush did not create “a lot of jobs” — at the end of Bush’s first term, it was the first administration in the modern era to go four years with a net job growth of zero. By the end of the second term, the net gain under Bush was about 1 million jobs.

That’s not “a lot”; it’s a disaster. It’s a dreadful period unlike any other in generations. Indeed, it’s very likely more jobs will be created in 2010 than in the entire eight years Bush was president.

Steele thinks “the markets reflect” Bush’s success on the economy? The day Bush was sworn into office in January 2001, the Dow Jones stood at 10,732.46. The day he left, it was 7,949. In other words, after eight years of Bush/Cheney, the Dow had a cumulative gain of negative 2,783 points.

Steele does realize that negative is bad, right?

But it wasn’t just Steele’s confusion about facts and figures that bothered me. What was troubling was the reminder that Republicans, instead of feeling humiliated by Bush’s stunning failures, actually believe the United States would be better off if only we’d go back to the same policies that didn’t work.

If I’m Steele, and I’m trying to be intellectually serious and honest, I tell interviewers, “You know what? Bush’s way didn’t work, and the status quo isn’t good enough. The Republican Party is moving forward with a new vision for economic growth that has nothing to do with the policies that fell short in the past.” It’s a weak pitch, but at least it’d be coherent.

But that’s not the message. Instead, the RNC chairman tries to tell the public with a straight face, “George Bush created a lot of jobs” — a genuinely idiotic claim that no one can take seriously.

It’s a problem that Republicans were dreadfully wrong about economic policy in the Bush era, but the really painful realization is that the GOP believes they were right, and want to go back to what failed.