Good news was once a valued commodity, even in an election year — especially in an election year. But now the sky has to be falling every day. Barack Obama needs to be seen leading the country to ruin (elections in the South and Midwest depend upon it) so every news cycle somehow lends credence.
Take plunging oil and gasoline prices.
High pump prices before the 2012 election were cause for gloom and glee — glee on the part of Republicans because it would cinch Obama's defeat. Gas prices tailed off by Election Day, although at an average of $3.46 a gallon they were the highest on record for an election day. Obama won anyway.
When gas prices spiked this spring, Republican pundits and politicians blamed Obama and his energy policies, especially offshore drilling bans and his refusal to sanction the pipeline to pump Canadian crude to Gulf of Mexico ports. Arkansas Republican congressmen said Obama was responsible for high gasoline prices because he would not expand drilling on federal lands or federally protected waters.
Now that the oil glut has sent prices below $3 a gallon in a spiral that is likely to continue, you might think that someone, perhaps a random Democrat, would give the president some credit, even if he's no more deserving than he was of blame when prices rose.
But while the news mentions that gas savings are pumping billions into the rest of the consumer economy every month, it also has carried specters of gloom. See, it's bad for the petroleum business, it reduces incentives for the development of renewable energy, and it destabilizes a Middle East dependent upon oil income, which increases perils for the United States. Gadzooks, it also steepens the economic decline in oil-exporting Russia, where Obama's sanctions already have driven inflation to 8 percent, sank the ruble to a 15-year low against the dollar and caused investors to yank $100 billion from Russian ventures. Now the oil depression may provoke Vladimir Putin into new mischief in Eastern Europe. What will Obama do to us next?
A bit overstated perhaps, but the good-news/bad-news ratio has seldom seemed better before a national election or politics and the voters more indifferent to it. There is no stomach for good news, although realistically no surfeit of good news would reduce Obama's unpopularity in the South.
A typical Arkansas ad this fall is a Republican billboard in remote Sharp County that blames the local Democrat running for a state legislative seat for the Barack Obama agenda of economic ruin. (For the record, the Obama agenda has manifested itself in Arkansas in two ways: (1) The big stimulus program of 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, improved highways and bridges in every community of the state, put thousands to work and saved the state budget by pumping $825 million into public health accounts, which allowed the state to save its own taxes and run surpluses for three years while other states were slashing budgets and running double-digit unemployment rates. The other impact was Obamacare, which has extended health insurance to 250,000 Arkansans for the first time, sharply reduced emergency-room and hospital admissions, saved $125 million in drug costs for Arkansas seniors, and put $17.7 million in the pockets of Arkansas consumers whose health insurers had spent more than 15 percent of their premiums on profits and advertising than Obamacare allows.)
Is it the economy, stupid? Consider the pre-election economic trends. Another good job surge in September meant that more net jobs have been created under Obama in six and a half years than in the combined 12 years of the Bush presidents (5.1 million to 3.9 million) and more than Japan, Europe and the world's other advanced economies combined. Those nations, which followed the Republican strategy of cutting public services to fight recession, are slipping into recession again.
Unemployment, 10 percent when Bush left, is now 5.9 percent. The Dow Jones closed under 8,000 on Bush's last day on its freefall to 6,479 six weeks later, but it now ranges between 16,000 and 17,000. The S&P index has nearly tripled since then. Rich Americans, bleeding from Obama's "class warfare," have never enjoyed so much prosperity in spite of the president's attempts to push more of the national wealth downward through the minimum wage, higher taxes on investors and subsidized health insurance for the poor and the middle class.
Health care spending has been the driver of forecasts of fiscal doom, but no one takes notice that health care inflation has leveled off since 2009. Medicare was on its way to bankrupting the country, according to the forecasts every year, but after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare trustees each year have reduced their projections of future spending. Owing to reforms in Obamacare and the Budget Control Act of 2011, the CBO's forecast this summer of Medicare spending in 2019 was reduced by another $95 billion.
Remember those warnings — actually they're still issuing them in Arkansas political races — that Obamacare would cost millions of jobs, send the country into recession and send budget deficits soaring?
In fact, job growth picked up smartly when the big features of the law went into effect 10 months ago. And the federal deficit fell to $483 billion in the fiscal year that just ended, less than a third of its $1.5 trillion peak in George W. Bush's last budget year.
Good news? Who needs it?