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Tilting at Windmills

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November 15, 2010

CERTAIN ABOUT UNCERTAINTY, CONT'D.... The most annoying and misleading talking points tend to be the ones that linger the longest.

Yesterday, for example, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) repeated on CNN the same line that we've heard for a year: "The most important thing the economy needs right now is certainty. The reason we have so much money sitting on the sidelines is because of all the churning they see in Washington." It came the same day as USC business professor Ayse Imrohoroglu made a similar case in the LA Times.

We've been through this repeatedly, but Kevin Drum offered another helpful reminder.

The uncertainty meme is just mind boggling. Businesses always have a certain amount of financial and regulatory uncertainty to deal with, and there's simply no evidence that this uncertainty is any greater now than it usually is. (It is, of course, entirely believable that business owners who spend too much time watching Fox or reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page might believe otherwise, but that's a whole different problem -- and one that Imrohoroglu should spend his time debunking, not promoting.) The only significant real uncertainty that American businesses face right now is uncertainty about whether there's enough customer demand to justify hiring more workers and buying more equipment.

In my heart of hearts, I assume that most Republicans know their talking point on this is garbage. They're using it, I suspect, because they can't think of anything else -- they can't blame the economy on tax increases, since taxes have gone down not up, and they can't blame the recession on Bush since they still support his economic policies. They need to figure out a way to blame health care reform, industry regulations, and the rest of the Democratic agenda, so "uncertainty" becomes a convenient catch-all.

But it's still ridiculous. Businesses have been reluctant to hire because they need more customers. It's really not a mystery.

Let's also not forget, though, that Republicans seek to contribute to their imaginary problem by adding more uncertainty, not less. Hell, the GOP can add all kinds of certainty today by announcing it will stop fighting middle-class tax cuts, stop trying to gut the health care system, stop pushing to take more money out of the economy, stop trying to undermine consumer and worker safeguards, stop vowing to repeal financial regulatory reform

After all, as Mark Schmitt explained a couple of months ago, "The mantra of 'uncertainty' is as subtle and smart a political slogan as the Republican wordsmiths have ever cooked up. But rather than being defensive or trying to change the subject, progressives should take it head on: It's the political maneuverings of the Bush administration and the scams of Wall Street that created uncertainty. And it's progressive policies, from the New Deal to the present, that hold the answer."

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Yes, they do have the answer, but, until they learn how to play it effectively in Peoria and/or Waco, good luck with anyone hearing it in any area outside a major city.

Posted by: berttheclock on November 15, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

See today's WaPo, Samuelson's op-ed concludes with the same lame uncertainty argument.

Posted by: RollaMO on November 15, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

If uncertainty is the main problem facing a business, that means it has no real competition in their space, and so it is inefficient.

Posted by: Walker on November 15, 2010 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

When you attack Social Security for decades, always repeating that it will not be there when your turn comes, the result is uncertainty. When the governing party proposes tax cuts and unemployment extensions and you oppose them, you create uncertainty. When the governing party legislates tax cuts and you lie about tax increases, you create doubt and confusion. And on and on.

This is Rovian tactics at its finest: Figure out what outrage you are presenting and then accuse the opposition of doing that so as to undermine them and keep them on the defensive.

Cynical but highly effective.

Posted by: Seould on November 15, 2010 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

"Hell, the GOP can add all kinds of certainty today by announcing it will stop fighting middle-class tax cuts, stop trying to gut the health care system, stop pushing to take more money out of the economy, stop trying to undermine consumer and worker safeguards, stop vowing to repeal financial regulatory reform"

Exactly right.

And Obama can add to the "certanity" by sticking to his convictions and not caving constantly!

Posted by: Mark-NC on November 15, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Progressives have been doing this. Your mistake is that thinking Democrats are progressive.

Posted by: Tj on November 15, 2010 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

On top of all of that, of course businesses have to deal with uncertainty. It's called "risk," and it's what profit is based on.

Businesses aren't entitled to the certainty of profit, revenue or even success. It's because they risk their money that capitalists are said to be entitled to reward in the first place. The Republicans' talking point is as anti-capitalist as it gets -- not to mention that it makes no sense at all -- but the so-called "liberal media" keeps right on reporting it, because the Republicans have nothing else (including a motivation to come up with better talking points, since this pathetic excuse for one evidently flies in the Beltway).

Feh.

Posted by: Gregory on November 15, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

It's counterproductive at this point to hold back on hiring because of a lack of customers. If businesses hired employees, they would be creating consumers with reliable incomes who would then be spending that income on goods and services, and recirculating it back into the economy. It's not that difficult to grasp.

Posted by: Varecia on November 15, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

I might ask, "Which do you prefer? The "CERTAINTY" that the economy was going to collapse into a 1929-like pile of rubble, or, after Democrats eliminated that, some "uncertainty" as to how to continue to grow the economy, and which direction will maximize that growth?
How about some of you business people worried about uncertainty in the business world, hire some people, and there'll 'certainly' be an uptick in not only the economy, but your profit margins.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on November 15, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

If the democrats wanted to WIN this argument, they should take a page from the Republican playbook. They should associate the word "certainty" with banker bonuses despite the financial collapse. For example: "The 'certain' days of guaranteed bonuses for pushing toxic securities is over." Anyone who complains about "uncertainty" is then objectively pro-financial collapse.

Words won't improve things for America obviously, but if Democrats want to win the news cycle, thats what they should do.

Posted by: Jon Karak on November 15, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

The Repubs are artists at "throwinf S--- against the wall" and the Media loves it. This is the "stuff" that drives their 24 hr news cycle. The Dems are never going to get ahead of this BS because the Media would have to insult the Repubs by pointing out the obvious in their remarks. The Media is not going to take that chance and lose the benefit that profits them so well.

Posted by: fillphil on November 15, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Seould: "This is Rovian tactics at its finest: Figure out what outrage you are presenting and then accuse the opposition of doing that so as to undermine them and keep them on the defensive."

I have always heard the Rovian tactic as identify your enemy's strength and then attack it. I'm a straightforward, open person, so I find it hard to be Machievellian, but I'm going to take a shot at it. By the "attack-strengths" tactic, if Dems wanted to go after Republican strength, we would attack, what?, their goose-stepping unity and propaganda machine: "Look, they are trying to brainwash you! Are you a man or a cog?"

Or, changing course to the tactic of "accusing your enemies of the outrage that you are about to perpetrate," the outrage that the Obamites seem about to perpetrate is unconditional surrender to the Republican spin machine. So should Dems should beat up Republicans for lack of conviction and inconsistency? I suppose it is worth a shot.

The theme of this thread is the latest Republican claim that Obama is causing uncertainty. This is a complete lie. If you want certainty, Republicans, you should stick with plan and let the Bush tax cuts expire as planned 10 years ago. There was no uncertainty there. It is also certain that Republican "coddle-the-rich" economic and social policies wreak havoc on the nation, causing decline, not growth. It is also certain that Republicans cause wars not peace. So the best way to reduce uncertainty, if uncertainty is a problem, is to adopt liberal policies and practices.

Posted by: PTate in MN on November 15, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

It's 'uncertainly' when the agenda isn't GOPer and it's 'certainly' when the GOPers' get their way.

I thought people had figured that out by now.

Posted by: leo on November 15, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know if former Secretary of State George Shultz was miming the current Republican position or if they were taking their cue from him. He was interviewed on Fareed Zakaria yesterday and the crux of the interview was 1) his new book 2) how great the Reagan Administration's decisions were and 3) certainty = economic growth. I was disappointed that Zakaria had such an old ideologue on for an interview. .

Posted by: Diane Rodriguez on November 15, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Let's look at the money on the sidelines. That's what the "uncertainty" talking point is providing cover for. Big business just spent hundreds of millions in attack ads against Democrats to get part of the job done. Looks like a lot of them are withholding hiring and investment until they get the rest of the job done: another GOP administration that will allow them to do whatever they want. In the meantime any business without much cash in reserve is still hamstrung by Wall St. which evidently has decided expansion plans and real growth in the economy conflict their overarching goal of installing the GOP back in power. Obama and Democrats have already provided about all the tax breaks and any other gimmicks typically employed to get the economy growing again.

Anybody who doesn't believe this could be happening only needs to look at Eric Cantor's little talk with Netanyahu and Mark Kirk's conversation with Chinese central bankers in June 09. Do you really think for a minute Republicans wouldn't try to undermine the US economy for political gain as well as sabotage US foreign policy? Of course they would.

Posted by: markg8 on November 15, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Send this post to Koppel. And THEN tell us that MSNBC and FOX are equal on promoting 'misinformation'...

Posted by: SYSPROG on November 15, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Make no mistake, rank and file supposedly sober and sensible Republicans believe the "uncertainty" thing with all their hearts. And it's pointless to try to show them that it is entirely irrational. They are all, to the man (and occaisional woman), absolutely convinced that Obama is going to raise their taxes through the roof, that his presidency signals ever-spiraling tax increases for no other reason than that he's hostile to wealth.

It is futile to point out that this is ridiculous, that Congress, not the president, controls the tax rates and that even under the most optimistic scenario for Democrats possible over the next six years, they'll never get enough votes to do that. They see a black Democrat in the White House and "everyone knows" that black Democrats are tax-raising liberals. There's a lot of ugly driving a lot of them, stuff that cycles back to pernicious racist stereotypes of black people as parasites living off the hard work of white people, stereotypes about "welfare queens" and "young bucks eating T-Bone steak." But even among those who haven't internalized that stereotype so deeply that they don't even know it's there, they can't shake off the only slightly less pernicious stereotype that blacks are always in the leftmost wing of the Democratic Party. And, after all, he was a community organizer and an academic so he must hate business.

And slightly less crazy is the fact that, for the first time in decades, he is, in fact, cranking up the regulatory agencies. They're used to those agencies being next to completely useless. They are so unused to the entire concept of actual effective regulatory oversight that they genuinely don't know what to expect because it is completely outside their experience. They have only the institutional wisdom of their elders that it was bad, oh very bad indeed.

But all that irrational fear is just an excuse. If it looked like demand was picking up, there's not a damn one of them who would let "uncertainty" keep them from ramping up.

Posted by: Another Steve on November 15, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Another bullet for their talking points. The best one yet was McConnell saying "the vibrancy of the tax cuts." I swear the look on his face was that he was so proud of coming up with another layer of brainwashery. "Vibrancy" didn't stick. This seems to be a second round of trying to get "uncertainty" to stick. And they seem to have resurrected the "small business" angle. Even though I thought that it's debunking had been pretty well accepted.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on November 15, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, the way to increase certainty in business is increased regulation. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Mike from Detroit on November 15, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a gigantic source of uncertainty that the GOP is responsible for: will the fanatics in their party fail to approve an increase to the federal debt ceiling? If they don't approve the increase -- something which is usually a bipartisan, nearly unanimous affair -- will it cause a default for the U.S.? Will it cause investors to stop buying T-bills? We've never had a federal default on debt, so what would that bring? No one knows. Talk about uncertainty...

Posted by: meander on November 15, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

The purpose of the uncertainty meme is to create uncertainty in the public. It is an essential step in the process of disaster capitalism shock doctrine. They do it because it works.

Posted by: thebewilderness on November 15, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

If the GOP is earnest in its concern about uncertainty (the odds of this are smaller than my chance of winning the lottery, I suspect), here are two ideas, one that is modest and one that is a bit out there:

1) Pledge that the GOP is not going to shut down the federal government in the next two years. A good bit of our economy depends on federal contracts, Social Security, Medicare, etc. The chance of those not working is a source of uncertainty.

2) Pledge that the GOP will not run a candidate for president in 2012. After all, isn't the uncertainty of who will be in the White House from 2013-2017 a major piece of uncertainty? Not running a candidate will assure the business community that there will be continuity of leadership in the White House and none of that messy campaigning.

Posted by: meander on November 15, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in MN: "I have always heard the Rovian tactic as identify your enemy's strength and then attack it."

"...the outrage that the Obamites seem about to perpetrate is unconditional surrender to the Republican spin machine"

I don't think Rovian tactics work for the Dems because the Dems are not trying to revolutionize the country. Yes, destroying the power of the national government in order to turn it over to the states and corporations is revolutionary. Yes, a free market Jesus is a revolutionary ideology.

Like you, I'm not naturally much of a Machiavellian. Frankly, I'm in awe of people like Rove who are.

One deviously clever part of this charge of 'uncertainty' is that it feeds directly into the politics of fear. There was a commie under every bed in the 50's and now there's a Moslem terrorist at every airport. Rational argument only goes so far in countering irrational emotion.

Posted by: Seould on November 15, 2010 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK
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