Certain about uncertainty

CERTAIN ABOUT UNCERTAINTY…. When it comes to assigning blame for the weak economy, Democrats have a reasonable pitch: we’re cleaning up a Republican mess, after Republican failures ruined the economy. At a certain level, the public already accepts this — voters are poised to vote against Dems because of the painfully slow recovery, but polls show Americans are still inclined to blame the GOP more than Democrats for the problems.

The Republican pitch is trickier, since it doesn’t make sense to blame the White House for a recession that began before Obama even won the Iowa caucuses in 2008. The GOP’s line, however, has been fairly clever: we’d be better off if only Democrats hadn’t created so much uncertainty.

The argument is wildly, almost shockingly, wrong, but it has a certain rhetorical appeal. Businesses might start hiring and expanding, the argument goes, but they’re holding back because of uncertainty over taxes, regulations, health care costs, etc. If only Democrats would govern the way Republicans want them to, the GOP insists, businesses would feel more confident and the economy would get back on track. As such, Democrats didn’t start this recession, but, Republicans argue, the uncertainty that holds the economy back is the Dems’ fault.

Is there any evidence to support this? Not even a little. Worse, the entire rhetorical approach is as ironic as it is misguided — Republicans create more uncertainty, not less, by fighting tooth and nail to prevent Democrats from governing. Besides, American industries have to deal with uncertainty all the time; it’s just part of doing business.

Mark Schmitt, however, takes the next step, and explains that the surest way to resolve uncertainty and improve confidence is to ignore the course recommended by Republicans. (thanks to reader R.L. for the tip)

[The way to provide confidence is] to build the structures that provide a platform of security and predictability. Health-care reform, for example, if implemented well, should help reduce the spikes in premiums that made businesses reluctant to hire because they couldn’t know the actual cost of a new employee. Financial regulation will promote a more stable economy by encouraging “vanilla” products with predictable interest rates rather than exotic instruments with unknown risks. An economic plan focused on steady growth and long-term deficit reduction can create a smooth and predictable path for investors to follow, while helping to restore the productivity of our un- and underemployed workers, whereas the rapid and premature withdrawal of federal stimulus spending proposed by Ryan and other Republicans will spark yet another roller coaster of disasters and bailouts.

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.

The Democratic agenda, in other words, isn’t the cause of uncertainty; it’s the solution.