Jun 4th 2012, 22:27 by W.W. | IOWA CITY
BARACK OBAMA botched the recovery. That’s the central claim of Mitt Romney’s campaign. If enough of us come to believe it, Mr Romney will win in November. However, the main determinant of the electorate’s ideas about Mr Obama’s culpability for the lagging recovery will not be the campaigns’ competing TV spots, but the performance of the economy itself. Of course, that won’t stop pundits from doing what they can to shift blame onto the other team. Every vote counts!
In his column today, Paul Krugman rehearses a version of the argument that Mr Obama bears little responsibility for economic policy under his tenure. The economy of the Obama era is, he argues, a “Republican economy”.
What do I mean by saying that this is already a Republican economy? Look first at total government spending — federal, state and local. Adjusted for population growth and inflation, such spending has recently been falling at a rate not seen since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.
In President Obama’s case, much though not all of the responsibility for the policy wrong turn lies with a completely obstructionist Republican majority in the House.
That same obstructionist House majority effectively blackmailed the president into continuing all the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, so that federal taxes as a share of G.D.P. are near historic lows — much lower, in particular, than at any point during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
As I said, for all practical purposes this is already a Republican economy.
Mr Krugman wonders why “neither the press nor Mr. Obama’s political team has done a very good job of exposing the con”—”the con” being the Republicans’ attempt to attribute the economy’s poor performance to the president’s policies. (It is revealing that Mr Krugman believes that “the press” and “Mr Obama’s political team” ought to be telling us the same thing.) Mr Krugman might find it instructive to compare his own argument with a more nuanced alternative from John Cassidy, an economics correspondent at the New Yorker. Mr Cassidy writes:
That [the Obama administration’s policies have failed] is the Romney argument, of course. “This week has seen a cascade of one bad piece of economic news after another,” Romney said in a statement. “Slowing GDP growth, plunging consumer confidence, an increase in unemployment claims, and now another dismal jobs report all stand as a harsh indictment of the President’s handling of the economy.”
From an economic point of view, this is misleading. Obama’s policies helped prevent a Great Depression. Since the spring of 2010, payrolls have risen by more than four million. If the do-nothing Republicans in Congress had passed the Administration’s American Jobs Act, which contained more financial help for cash-strapped states that are still laying off teachers and other employees, many more Americans would be working.
In short, the Republicans are full of it.
On the one hand, Mr Cassidy wants to give Mr Obama credit for saving America from a second great depression, and for jumpstarting hiring. On the other, he wants to blame Republicans for blocking policies that might have helped even more, and that seems fair enough. But then shouldn’t congressional Republicans share some responsibility for the heroic measures alleged to have saved America’s economy from economic catastrophe?
In order to heed Mr Krugman’s advice, and try to characterise the economic status quo as a “Republican economy”, it seems Mr Obama would have to give up credit for saving the economy while simultaneously admitting hapless impotence in the face of Republican opposition. Crediting all good to Mr Obama’s leadership and all bad to Republican obstructionism, as Mr Cassidy does, may not be entirely honest, but it does have the considerable virtue of freeing Mr Obama of the burden of running as a feckless wimp stymied by Republican bullying. Had Mr Obama faced Republican majorities in both houses, instead of having had two years of Democratic majorities in both houses, and another two with a majority in the Senate, Mr Krugman’s idea of running against the “do-nothing” Republican Congress might have had some merit. As it is, the best the president can possibly do is make Mr Cassidy’s version of the argument more convincingly. Even then, if the economy refuses to cooperate, he’s sunk, fair or not.
Meanwhile, Robert Kuttner wonders why Mr Krugman is so “widely ignored”.
(Photo credit: AFP)