The "Alternate Universe" Convention
Now that the Democratic convention has wrapped up, I think it's signature moment came Wednesday afternoon, when Los Angeles Mayor and convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa rose to the podium to seek consent for a measure that would restore a reference to God to the official Democratic platform along with a reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. After a voice vote that had to be repeated three times, the motion was declared to have been passed by a two-thirds majority—even though it was obvious that at least as many people were shouting "no" as were shouting "yes."
I suspect the vehement opposition wasn't to God so much as to Jerusalem. At least, the fellow featured in a video of the incident seems to belong to an Arab-American group, indicating that the Democratic Party's sizeable pro-Palestinian faction turned out to voice their opposition to a pro-Israel platform item. But the spectacle of Democrats voting against God was irresistible, and Representative Allen West was quick to put out an ad picking up on the Biblical overtones: three times they denied Him.
What is interesting to me, however, is not the reference to God (which had nothing to do with actual policy; it was a passing reference to people's "God-given abilities"). Rather, what is interesting is how the Democrats tried to make the whole incident go away. Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz tried to brass it out and claim that none of it actually happened, leading CNN's Anderson Cooper to describe her as living in an "alternate universe."
That strikes me as a good theme for the convention as a whole.
The Democratic convention was a vast experiment to determine whether people will think they are prosperous and face a bright future if you tell them that this is true—as opposed to them having the actual experience of being prosperous and facing a bright future.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick touted a "list of accomplishments" that is "long" and "impressive," including that President Obama "added over 4.5 million private sector jobs in the last two-plus years, more jobs than George W. Bush added in eight." That sounds great, until you realize that this is less than half of the jobs that were lost in the recession, making this by far the slowest, most sluggish economic recovery since the Great Depression, particularly when it comes to employment.
Bill Clinton told us that Obama's performance in office has been as good as anyone could have expected. "No president—not me or any of my predecessors—no one could have fully repaired all the damage in just four years." I love the way we're supposed to be impressed that not even Clinton—universally acknowledged in his own mind as the greatest president ever—could have achieved better results.
In fact, all of President Obama's predecessors achieved better results. If you want to judge the performance of the economy during President Obama's term in office, the best place to start is with a fascinating interactive graph provided by the Minneapolis Fed. You can change the graph to compare any collection of recessions or recoveries since the end of the Great Depression, but click on the button that says "compare recessions," and you get three recession as the default option: Reagan's 1981 recession, Bush's 2001 recession, and the current recession, beginning in 2007. Reagan's is the sharpest contrast: a deep drop down, as in this recession, but an equally steep rebound that took employment to new heights within a few years. And you can't say Reagan had it so much easier, because his economy had to bounce back from "stagflation" and 20% interest rates—the whole "national malaise" of the late 1970s.
Even George W. Bush did better than Barack Obama. Sure, Bush didn't add as many new jobs, but he didn't need to. By this point after the 2001 recession, employment was up noticeably above pre-recession levels—while Obama still has a long, long way to go.
Now go back to the Fed graph and click the buttons to "turn on" the data from every single post-war recession. There is Obama's recovery, way at the bottom, lagging behind everyone else's. In what universe is this lame non-recovery the best we can do?
To get the most pungent flavor of the alternate universe the Democrats are asking us to live in, consider the convention's repeated attacks on Mitt Romney's proposal, back in 2008, to let General Motors and Chrysler go through a managed bankruptcy. Speaker after speaker, including Joe Biden, Jennifer Granholm, Ted Strickland, and Rahm Emanuel, jeered at Romney for wanting to "let Detroit go bankrupt," unlike President Obama. If your mind is reeling with cognitive dissonance right now, it's because you remember that GM and Chrysler did go bankrupt under President Obama. Chrysler filed in April of 2009, three months into Obama's presidency, and GM filed a few months later. The only difference is that under Obama, the two automakers sucked up billions of dollars in taxpayer money before they went under, and their resurrection was designed to preserve many perks for the United Auto Workers, which is one of the reasons GM may be headed back into bankruptcy again.
The bankruptcy argument is an absolutely stunning lie, except that it almost seems wrong to call it that, because I could see no indication that the Democrats believed they were lying. They seem to have talked themselves into actually believing an alternative history in which the automakers never went under.
But the biggest evidence of this alternate universe is that the Democrats seem to think they live in a world without a $16 trillion national debt, in which there is plenty of money to throw at every federal priority we can think of. Matt Welch captures the spirit of this Democratic denialism.
Last night's speeches were notable less for what they contained and more for what they did not: any engagement with the issue of having a debt load (of $16 trillion) that is now larger than GDP, of having a long-forecasted entitlement time bomb marching northward toward 100 percent of federal spending, of having underfunded obligations in the trillions of dollars promised by politicians addicted to handing out "free" benefits.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley summed up this worldview succinctly, in a question to Republican nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan: "How much less, do you really think, would be good for our country? How much less education would be good for our children?" When you are unbounded by spending restraints, government budgets can be boiled down to a simple question: How much, at long last, do you care?
Hence the fantasy involved in Obama trying to frame this election as "a choice between two different paths for America," as if we have two equally feasible alternatives and there is no practical reason to choose one over the other. It's just that those Republicans are cold-hearted radical individualists who don't care about the little guy.
The Democratic convention presented an alternate universe down to the littlest details. Michelle Obama swore that "for Barack, there is no such thing as 'us' and 'them'—he doesn't care whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above. He knows that we all love our country, and he's always ready to listen to good ideas." This, during the middle of one of the most bitterly partisan administrations I've ever seen and one of the most virulently negative attacks against a presidential challenger that I've ever seen.
Then there was the Democrats' claim that "For more than 200 years, our party has led the fight for civil rights." So saith the party of Jefferson Davis, the Klan, Jim Crow, and George Wallace. Worse, they're saying it to the Party of Lincoln and the son of George Romney, who sacrificed his political career in his crusade for the Civil Rights Act.
I think you can see now why the Democrats get along so well with Hollywood. They're all in the same business, offering pleasant, appealing, heart-warming stories told by attractive, articulate protagonists—and set in a fictional world.
But at the very end of the convention, the fiction became just a little too implausible.
At the beginning of the convention, Michelle Obama assured us that her husband deeply cares about and is committed to those who are still unemployed and doing poorly in this economy.
I see the concern in his eyes, and I hear the determination in his voice as he tells me, "You won't believe what these folks are going through, Michelle. It's not right. We've got to keep working to fix this. We've got so much more to do." I see how those stories—our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams—I see how that's what drives Barack Obama every single day.
At the end of the convention, Barack Obama gave a speech that refuted this claim. After three years of an achingly slow, lackluster recovery, of unemployment permanently wedged above the 8% mark that he claimed we wouldn't reach if we enacted his stimulus plan, President Obama owed Americans a serious accounting of what went wrong. If things were worse than he realized when he pushed through his policies at the beginning of his term, he had to explain how they were worse, what unexpected factors threw the economy off course, what has prevented him from getting us back on course ever since, and what he intends to do about it.
Instead, he offered nothing—no explanation, no plan, no new ideas. The actual message to voters was that the president doesn't care enough about high unemployment and lackluster growth to have given the issue any serious thought. Even worse, he gave this speech already knowing that on the following morning the government would release an awful new jobs report in which the unemployment rate dropped—but only because hordes of disappointed job-seekers dropped out of the labor force.
The polls are showing a small "bounce" from the Democratic convention, but I'm skeptical it will last long. (They rarely do.) People may be swayed for a moment by a good show, while they sit in the comforting glow of their television screens. But the next morning—literally in this case—they wake up to the cold, hard reality of a failing, stagnant economy, the concrete evidence of this president's failed ideas and failed leadership.
[fbshare type="button"] [twitter style="horizontal" float="left"]