Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Giant Sucking Sound of History Disappearing

I won't have a chance to write a post before the final episode of CSPAN's The Contenders airs tomorrow night, so I'll just copy an email that I sent a friend a couple of weeks ago:

Hey C..,

I saw this guy on TV back in Sept when the 3rd medicine was really wiping me out. I saw him a few times, and he always said something like:
Mr. Smith said he perceived "The Contenders" to be an alternative to the constant coverage of the current Republican primary campaign, but relevant to the coverage too. Take Mr. Perot, for instance. "Perot put the deficit on the agenda in a way that made it virtually impossible for whoever won to avoid doing something about it," he said. New York Times Sept. 8, 2011

He also implied that Perot gave the election to Clinton, which seems plausible, perhaps likely (to most people), but isn't backed by polling data. He never got challenged on either point. I don't really care about the election part, except or the fact it's a Republican talking point to try make Conservative Republicanism seem like the mainstream. If you look at the guy's bio, you'll see that he's a Repub at a school (a state school) that conservatives and libertarians are taking over.

Anyway, you were a Perot supporter, didn't he talk about two deficits? In fact, didn't he talk about the trade deficit at least much as, probably more than, the budget deficit? I'd have a lot more respect for Tea Party supporters if people who are old enough to remember when there was concern about two deficits, showed concern for both deficits.

The rest of the email was personal, but of course the answer was yes, Perot was at least as concerned about the trade deficit as the federal budget deficit. My memory is that from 1980 (the first election in which I was old enough to vote) until some point in the 1990's* there was roughly equal concern over both deficits, but I'll have more on that in another post.

I can't call Richard Norton Smith a lazy researcher with a biased memory or a partisan hack until tomorrow night's episode airs and I can see how much attention he pays to Perot's concern with both deficits, but the September promos all left out the same thing, and I thought I heard a giant sucking sound.

*Concern over trade imbalances possibly started fading with 1985 Plaza Accord, but I don't think it completely disappeared from the sphere of legitimate discourse until the passage of NAFTA divided the Democratic Party and globalization protesters were marginalized as kooks in the Nineties.

In fact I'd say Perot had a lot to do with the success in defining concern over the trade deficit as a "kook" issue. Or at least he provided a handy whipping boy for those interested in doing that.
Certainly among liberals like me, but then again, I was almost a neoliberal at 30.* I do know that I was already getting jaded with the New Republic and Washington Monthly by then, but I found their arguments countering labor and environmental concerns over NAFTA convincing at the time. I'm almost certain that the "kook" factor had a lot to do with that. Funny you mention that debate, because I had forgotten it, but my little brother brought it up a few months. He said that Perot seemed kooky (or nutty, or crazy) at the time but, in retrospect, was probably right.

Still, the two main points that I'd like to see people develop are that's it rewriting history to say that Perot put concern over the federal deficit on the map. The historic revision involved obviously serves a political purpose in that it allows Republicans to gloss over the fact that they forgot their historic concern about deficits when it suited their purposes. It serves another political purpose in giving Austerians a populist folk hero to show the public.

The other point is that the average Tea Partier is old enough to remember when there was roughly equal concern over both deficits and should be asked to explain why that "Now they work for us" commercial (with the Chinese people watching the movie about how much money America owed them)wasn't about our trade deficit more than our budget deficit. If conservatives are going to use Perot to give Austerianism a populist face, economic populists should certainly bring up the new hero's ideas about free trade.

*I was pretty much an economic populist in high school in the late 70's into college in the early 80's, but it was a lot easier to find good arguments in favor of small government liberalism (or neoliberalism) than New Deal liberalism in the 80's. At least, it was for me without the internet. So, I was more conservative (at least economically) at 30 than at 20, which is the cliche pattern. But when market worship continued to get more and more widespread in the 90's, I finally had a WTF reaction (actually, a "this is fucking crazy" reaction) and started moving back toward lefty economic populism.
If you are reading this and I hope you are would you please please please bring this blog back to life?
Thanks for the comment. I plan on bringing the blog back soon.
I don't think Perot is really responsible for anything with his remarks. In the 1980s, Walmart advertised "Made in the USA" only merchandise, but changed that policy around the same time +/- 5 years because the declining economics of the US didn't support it. Stagnant real middle/low income wages necessitated more debt and cheap imports. The average Joe couldn't afford Ross Perot because so few workers were union even at that time. Yet, the average Joe couldn't afford Bush's policies either ... two lengthy wars and tax cuts for the wealthy. They were bamboozled into wanting those policies by small tax cuts financed by more public debt. Meanwhile the average Joe turned his home into an ATM and walked away when it became too much leaving the economy with huge debt hangover which I think at this point can only be helped by federal government printing money and handing out free grocery cards to all. I think Paul Krugman would agree
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