The year was 1992. The economy had stalled following the economic uncertainty that had surrounded the Gulf War and the after effects of the savings and loan crisis. A president who had received a 90 percent job approval rating just a year earlier was struggling to remain competitive in his bid for re-election. James Carville, a political consultant who had advised Zell Miller was on his way to becoming a national power broker by creating a campaign that would eventually overtake a once popular president.
Carville had a simple three-point outline of how Bill Clinton’s message would be presented to the American people. History has boiled that down to one that has resonated long after the campaign was over: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Simple yet blunt, the message was to not over-think the message or strategy. America had been in a recession and Americans were feeling pain. Worse, economic pain gets projected on anxiety for the future. People too often tend to believe that the future portends a long term extension of the present.
It wasn’t difficult to cast that narrative with a willing press. Like it or not, bad news sells. Journalists have no issue with framing and selling anecdotes of hard times as data. It didn’t matter that the recession was actually over by spring 1991.
So when the economy is roaring with economic statistics not seen since the Reagan era, surely campaigns are all about the economy and how the state and country are on the right track, right? Right?
No, this isn’t our first rodeo. For some reason, tying excellent economic news to Republicans running for re-election doesn’t make for page 1A stories or those that lead off the 6 p.m. news broadcasts.
So, for those of you that may have missed it, let’s roll off a few facts and statistics.
In April, for the first time on record, there were 6 million jobs open, surpassing the number of people looking for work. By October, the number of jobs available had expanded to 7 million. Unemployment nationally is at a 5 decade low. In Georgia, unemployment is at 3.7 percent, with a record 4.6 million Georgians employed.
Many on the left predicted economic gloom and “Armageddon” if Congress passed and President Trump signed tax cuts into law. Instead, the economy grew at 4.2 percent in the second quarter and 3.5 percent in the third quarter. That’s about 1 percent higher than was predicted a year earlier.
The growing economy has actually meant more revenue for the U.S. treasury. That’s correct, despite the tax cuts on businesses and 90 percent of individual taxpayers, the federal government has taken in more money this year than last. The debate over the Laffer curve remains alive and well.
Most importantly, wages are rising at the fastest rate in a decade, and are increasing above the rate of inflation. Even better, income of the bottom 10 percent of wage earners is rising the fastest of all. That’s what a working economy looks like, when it works for everyone and everyone works.
So what has the major narrative been going into this election? It certainly hasn’t been a referendum on the national economy or Georgia fully funding education while building a rainy day fund of $2.5 billion and passing the largest tax cut in history.
Instead, we’ve received a steady diet of biographies of challengers devoid of skepticism. “Policy” stories have actually just been a focus on wedge issues from a press that still can’t believe their readers and viewers can’t see the president for the person they believe he is.
As this column is syndicated throughout the week across multiple outlets, some will read it before they go to the polls, and some after. Many will know the outcomes from Tuesday before these words are read.
If this election was really about the economy, then Republicans will/would have fared well across the state and country. For too many who have covered the election, the narrative has been about literally anything else. For the voters, every election is their own Rorschach test. Each gets to tell us what the election was about, one vote at a time.
Charlie Harper is the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com and the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, which focuses on Georgia policy issues of Business Climate, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.