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Jewish World Review August 22, 2002 / 14 Elul, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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It's not the economy, stupid | What will be the political impact of the sluggish economy on the 2002 elections? None.

As Bush polishes his economic image and Democrats lie in weight to hang the blame for rising unemployment around his neck, both parties are confusing the elections of 1992 with those of 2002.

In 1992, the economy was the key issue in Bush's defeat. (Although, even then, it was more Perot's role in siphoning off 19% of the vote that likely crippled the incumbent Republican). But we have learned a lot, as a nation, since then.

In the past ten yeas, politics and economics have gotten divorced from one another. Voters have come to understand that the basic economic decisions in Washington are made by Alan Greenspan not by George W. Bush. Throughout the world, it is global bankers, economists, and bureaucrats who set the economic framework for the markets, not presidents, prime ministers, or chancellors. Economics, for one hundred years the decisive factor in whether politicians live or die, has lost its hold on the political process.

Why did Al Gore lose despite a good economy? Why is Bush popular despite a bad one? Because its not the economy, stupid. Its social or security issues like education, health care, environment, immigration, crime - and now, of course, terrorism -- which control electoral outcomes.

Voters never gave Clinton much credit for a good economy. His political strength came from his ability to blunt the GOP offensives on crime, welfare and fiscal discipline while opening up large leads on the traditionally Democratic issues of education, environment, Medicare, and Social Security. Clinton's ability to occupy the White Hosue while the private sector created jobs always seemed more coincidental than causal to the typical American voter.

Even now, the trends in closely watched Senate races around the country reflect the absence of economic issues driving voters. Republicans are poised to defeat incumbent Democrats in Missouri (because Jean Carnahan is totally without qualifications), Minnesota (because Wellstone is too liberal), and New Jersey (because Toricelli is a crook). Democrats are leading incumbent Republicans in New Hampshire (because Smith briefly left the GOP in 2000) and in Arkansas (because Hutchison divorced his wife of 29 years to marry his young staffer). Nowhere is the economy dominating the dialogue.

Abroad the political impotence of economic issues is even more clear. Five years ago, thirteen of the fifteen European Union nations had left leaning governments dedicated to reducing income inequality and creating jobs. Now, in eight of these nations, center-right parties have taken their place, winning on platforms far more focused on crime, education, health care, and immigration than on economic issues. In France, the Socialist, Lionel Jospin, didn't even make the runoff with his message of reducing the income gap between the rich and the poor. Instead, two rightists, Chirac and Le Pen fought in the runoff over the issues of crime and immigration.

The issue of corporate responsibility, on the other hand, has a great deal of political relevance. How the SEC regulates publicly held companies, what Congress does to eliminate conflicts of interest in the accounting industry, and how the Justice Department enforces laws against corporate fraud are all important political issues, likely to carry great weight in the 2002 elections.

But the ups and downs of the business cycle are about as politically important as those of the thermometer. Indeed, with global climate change so obviously causing disturbing storms, droughts, fires, and such, weather might be a politically more actionable issue than the economy.

There is some question about whether anybody in or out of government really controls the economy. We like to think that central banks have a decisive effect with their interest rate and money supply adjustments, but the evidence, in Japan for example, is less than convincing. There, miniscule interest rates have had no impact on a decade long recession.

But voters clearly understand that elected officials throughout the world have little impact over the business cycle.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris