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The Economic Surge

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“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” — Mark Twain

Rewind to a few years ago, and the buzzword was “surge”. The president was pushing for a surge in troops to stabilize Iraq. The Democrats, including the then-senator Obama, opposed opposed it feverishly. Republicans were saying that they were voting for defeat in Iraq. Fast-forward to a few months ago, after things had improved in Iraq, when Obama said this:

Katie, I have no idea what would have happened had we applied my approach, which was to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation. So this is all hypotheticals. What I can say is that there’s no doubt that our U.S. troops have contributed to a reduction of violence in Iraq. I said that– not just today, not just yesterday, but I’ve said that– previously. What that doesn’t change is that we’ve got to have a different strategic approach if we’re going to make America as safe as possible.

So, basically, the surge worked, but things might have been even better had they tried Obama’s approach. It’s a tough political tight-rope, but Obama overcame it because the war in Iraq in general was unpopular, so some people gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Today, Obama wants to execute an economic “surge” by injecting almost a trillion dollars into our economy (put on credit). Almost all Republicans oppose it, but it will be signed by the President shortly. Democrats say that Republicans are voting for America to fail (sound familiar?). Many pundits say that the Republicans have put themselves in a risky position. There are only two possibilities, they say:

1) The economy recovers, and the Republicans appear to have been trying to stop the economic recovery, and being against the American people.

2) The economy gets worse, and the Republicans are vindicated to opposing a bill that they correctly predicted would not help, and the “we have to do something” line is proven to be a nonsensical political argument.

But they ignore another possibility. I believe the economy will recover, but as any logician will tell you, just because Y follows X does not mean that X caused Y. It will be difficult to tell whether the stimulus package really helped or not, although Democrats will insist that it did. Republicans will find themselves in the position that Democrats did just a few months ago: defending the opposition to a policy that appeared to have succeeded. I can see them saying something like this:

“Yes, the stimulus might have helped, but think of how much it cost us. We didn’t get a chance to try our plan, which would have been less costly and helped get us out of the recession more quickly.”

Even if technically true, that is a difficult political argument to make. But, it worked for Obama on the Iraq surge, so will it work for Republicans?

No. The difference is: the people will not give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt as they gave Obama, since the Republicans are seen (rightly or not) as having caused the mess in the first place.

The bottom line: it’s tough to be a Republican these days. You lose when you win and lose when you lose.

(Note: Very rarely do I consider raw political analysis like this to be very worthwhile, but given the similarities of this situation and the Iraq surge situation, I found it interesting.)

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Written by Mike

February 14, 2009 at 7:36 am