July 12, 2019

MICHAEL BARONE: Democrats: Prisoners of the past on the economy.

We are all, to some extent, prisoners of the past. Things that have already happened — or that we remember as having happened — constitute the world that we know. Anything else is a product of imagination.

But it can also be a pitfall for a politician, particularly for those seeking national visibility when they’re running for president. It’s jarring to see candidates ignore recent changes and describe a world that no longer exists. As when they were asked lead-off questions about the economy in the first two Democratic debates.

Night one: “It’s doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top.” “The economy has got to work for everyone and right now we know it isn’t.” “Not everyone is sharing in this prosperity.” “This economy is not working for average Americans.” “There’s plenty of money in this country. It’s just in the wrong hands.”

So spoke Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Bill de Blasio.

Night two: “The bottom 60% haven’t seen a raise since 1980.” “We have three people in this country owning more wealth than the bottom half of America.” “We do have enormous inequality.” “The economy is not working for working people.” “Forty years of no economic growth for 90% of the American people.”

Those were Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Michael Bennet.

These are reasonably accurate descriptions of the macroeconomy in the years after the financial crash and recession of 2008 — which is to say, during the Obama presidency — and plausible descriptions of the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency. . . .

But now, there are signs that those trends are reversed. Wage gains in percentage terms seem to be increasing most for those at the bottom of the wage scale. Blue-collar incomes are apparently rising more rapidly than white-collar ones. Unemployment has dropped to levels not seen for 50 years, and unemployment among blacks and Hispanics seems to have dropped to the lowest levels since measurement began.

It’s possible that these trends will turn out to be just momentary reversals of dominant long-term trends. And it’s possible that these trends were not caused by any policies or actions of the Trump administration. Perhaps, as some Democrats argue, they’re even a delayed result of policies of the Obama administration.

But the fact remains that candidate Trump promised an economy whose gains would go more than in the recent past to those less well-off, to blue-collar workers in particular, and to blacks and Hispanics. And that’s exactly how the economy has performed in the 30 months he has been in office. It looks like he delivered.

Yeah, that’s the Democrats’ biggest problem.

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