Testing the talking point

The strategy isn’t subtle: Republicans hope that if they say President Obama made the economy “worse,” over and over again, people won’t notice they’re lying.

But if the process works as it should, when GOP voices make the bogus claim, we’ll see political reporters pressing them, demanding an explanation as to why the Republican talking points are at odds with reality.

We generally don’t see the media do this — facts appear to have a well known liberal bias — so I was glad to see Brian Beutler press a leading Republican senator on this.

For clarity, I asked Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) after the Senate Republicans’ weekly press conference to explain how the economy is worse now than it was in early 2009, and whether he’d prefer to preside over that situation, or the current one.

“We all agree that he inherited some problems, but his job was not to get in the boat and say the boat is sinking, I found the problem, there’s a hole in the boat. The solution’s not supposed to be let’s put another hole in the boat. And that’s been the effect of what he’s done. By his decisions he’s made the problem worse. Let’s take the health care mandates, and let’s be very specific. The chain restaurants of America, which are the largest employers outside the government have all said that health care costs are going to cause them to hire fewer people — he’s made the job problem worse.”

His list went on to include financial reform, trade agreements, and debt. Republicans can argue that his policies are stifling economic growth. But the very fact of economic growth means things are not worse. But on they go, and they’re very disciplined about sticking to this line.

Yes, if Republicans were as effective at governing as they are at message discipline, the nation would be infinitely better off.

But since that’s not the case, and GOP officials like Lamar Alexander are content to say things that are plainly false. In his bid to be “very specific,” the Tennessean argued that health care reform undermined the job market. Not only does reality prove otherwise, but it doesn’t even make sense — more jobs were created after the Affordable Care Act than before, and much of the law hasn’t even taken effect yet. Alexander’s point is simply incoherent.

As we talked about yesterday, this is a very straightforward exercise for Republicans, featuring just two questions for the party to answer:

1. When Obama took office, the economy was shrinking. Now it’s growing. In what way is that “worse”?

2. When Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging jobs. Now it’s gaining jobs. In what way is that “worse”?

As best as I can tell, there are basically only three explanations. Republicans are either lying and hoping no one will notice; they doesn’t know what “worse” means; or they consider a healthier economy worse than a deep recession.

So far, the GOP can’t answer these questions. Here’s hoping enterprising reporters keep asking them anyway.