Frightened by what could have been

FRIGHTENED BY WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN…. The latest stop on the White House’s “Main Street” tour brought President Obama to Youngstown, Ohio yesterday. He noted an economic truth that usually goes overlooked.

President Obama came Tuesday to this area long synonymous with economic distress to take a few strides on a victory lap for the policies he credits with helping create jobs and to knock Republicans for standing in the way.

“Despite all the naysayers in Washington, who are always looking for the cloud in every silver lining, the fact is our economy is growing again,” Mr. Obama told an audience of several hundred workers in a cavernous — and expanding — pipe-making plant, citing four months of job growth.

The president mocked Republicans in Congress who voted in near unanimity against his economic stimulus plan but at home participate in ribbon-cuttings for the job-creating projects it has helped finance.

“If the ‘just say no’ crowd had won out,” he said, “if we had done things the way they wanted to go, we’d be in a deeper world of hurt than we are right now.”

Now, the notion that the economy has significantly improved is incontrovertible, despite the ongoing difficulties facing so many, and the fragility of the recovery. But it’s that second point that seems especially important.

Indeed, if 2010 should be a referendum on anything, it should be in response to one straightforward question: when the Great Recession was at its worst, and the economy stood at the brink of collapse, who got it right and who got it wrong?

Obama said yesterday that “we’d be in a deeper world of hurt” if we’d listened to Republicans. It’s hard to overstate who painfully accurate this is. Go back and look at the GOP arguments from January and February 2009. How did they propose dealing with the crisis? By cutting government spending, pushing a balanced-budget amendment, demanding a capital gains tax cut, and imposing a five-year spending freeze.

Faced with the most pressing economic challenge in generations, the GOP proposed dangerous gibberish. The consequences of the Republican prescription would likely have been catastrophic.

There’s ample room for debate about whether the recovery efforts have been ambitious enough, and whether more can/should be done. But what’s beyond debate is that the United States was extremely fortunate that there was a Democratic majority in place 16 months ago. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the president reminding folks about this nagging detail.