Certain about uncertainty, cont’d

CERTAIN ABOUT UNCERTAINTY, CONT’D…. The most annoying and misleading talking points tend to be the ones that linger the longest.

Yesterday, for example, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) repeated on CNN the same line that we’ve heard for a year: “The most important thing the economy needs right now is certainty. The reason we have so much money sitting on the sidelines is because of all the churning they see in Washington.” It came the same day as USC business professor Ayse Imrohoroglu made a similar case in the LA Times.

We’ve been through this repeatedly, but Kevin Drum offered another helpful reminder.

The uncertainty meme is just mind boggling. Businesses always have a certain amount of financial and regulatory uncertainty to deal with, and there’s simply no evidence that this uncertainty is any greater now than it usually is. (It is, of course, entirely believable that business owners who spend too much time watching Fox or reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page might believe otherwise, but that’s a whole different problem — and one that Imrohoroglu should spend his time debunking, not promoting.) The only significant real uncertainty that American businesses face right now is uncertainty about whether there’s enough customer demand to justify hiring more workers and buying more equipment.

In my heart of hearts, I assume that most Republicans know their talking point on this is garbage. They’re using it, I suspect, because they can’t think of anything else — they can’t blame the economy on tax increases, since taxes have gone down not up, and they can’t blame the recession on Bush since they still support his economic policies. They need to figure out a way to blame health care reform, industry regulations, and the rest of the Democratic agenda, so “uncertainty” becomes a convenient catch-all.

But it’s still ridiculous. Businesses have been reluctant to hire because they need more customers. It’s really not a mystery.

Let’s also not forget, though, that Republicans seek to contribute to their imaginary problem by adding more uncertainty, not less. Hell, the GOP can add all kinds of certainty today by announcing it will stop fighting middle-class tax cuts, stop trying to gut the health care system, stop pushing to take more money out of the economy, stop trying to undermine consumer and worker safeguards, stop vowing to repeal financial regulatory reform

After all, as Mark Schmitt explained a couple of months ago, “The mantra of ‘uncertainty’ is as subtle and smart a political slogan as the Republican wordsmiths have ever cooked up. But rather than being defensive or trying to change the subject, progressives should take it head on: It’s the political maneuverings of the Bush administration and the scams of Wall Street that created uncertainty. And it’s progressive policies, from the New Deal to the present, that hold the answer.”