I've stopped marveling when consumers of Republican media products ignore anything that isn't included in the frame of their television sets, and embrace anything that is. It is part of the modern political equation. But Ezra Klein's recent blog post has revealed something new about the possible motivation of those who scripted and produced the "Debt-ceiling Hostage Crisis" and other soap operas that have dominated American political discourse and impacted federal policy since President Obama took office. The thought was that, if an expertly crafted narrative about debt and deficit could force a reduction in public sector employment at a time of economic peril (the very sort of austerity we now see imploding in Europe), it might succeed is stalling or reversing our economic recovery in time for the 2012 election.
Consider how much the 2012 presidential campaign has been impacted by the economic malpractice of cutting government jobs during a recession. While private sector job creation since the 2008 economic collapse has been relatively robust (4.3 million jobs created), a recent analysis from Yale University finds that a "hidden austerity program" that steadily cut public sector employment has been enough to increase our unemployment rate by a full percentage point, achieving the 8 percent unemployment rate that has been the centerpiece of the Republican electioneering narrative since 2009. (For those who don't recall, 8 percent is a crucial bench mark because the Obama administration justified the middle class tax cuts and other measures in the Recovery Act also known as the "stimulus" by saying it would keep the unemployment rate below that mark).
It requires a lot of money to reshape the conversation of a nation. Let's recall that when George W. Bush was president, the evaporation of the Clinton Era budget surpluses and doubling of our national debt was scarcely mentioned on Fox News — or on any other corporately purchased entertainment outlet that offers political advertising disguised as journalism — and as a result, fiscal responsibility was never enough of a political issue to lead to fiscally responsible policies. This, and a clever maneuver that kept the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan off the books, allowed the Bush administration to turn Clinton's record surpluses into record deficits without a peep from Americans who claim to be fiscally conservative, or, really from anyone. At least, that's how it looked on TV and let's face it: TV is the only window we have to the world beyond our own, actual experiences.
Klein writes, "Note that a Republican was president after the 1981, 1990 and 2000 recessions. Public-sector austerity looks a lot better to conservatives when they’re out of power than when they’re in it." But he doesn't spell out the reasons why.
The prodigious production budget that funded the debt hysteria news narrative from 2009 to the present was seen as a worthwhile investment, not only because it prevented policies that would have helped the economy, but also because it made possible policies that hurt the economy, namely the elimination of jobs and programs that invest in a strong, expanding middle class. By broadcasting and repeating the debt crisis mantra, they were able to help Congressional Republicans block infrastructure spending and other job-creating measures, and deepen the actual crisis — the jobs crisis — caused by the Great Recession.
A slow recovery and an unemployment rate over 8 percent are essential to the case being made against President Obama by Republican media products and the politicians who star in them. Both are not unlike elaborate special effects or gigantic sets constructed for blockbuster movies like Avatar or Titanic — they may be insanely expensive to create, but without them, you simply don't have a movie.