Jesse Jackson's Alternate Universe

A couple of days after the election I received a call from a producer at CNN’s “Talk Back Live.” Would I like to debate the future of the Democratic Party with Al Sharpton and New Republic Editor Peter Beinart? she asked.

Sure, I said.

A couple hours later she called back to tell me that instead of Al Sharpton I would be debating Jesse Jackson.

Even better, I said.

What more could the editor of HUMAN EVENTS ask for than to debate Jesse Jackson on the fate of the Democrats two days after an election in which the Republicans re-established control over all elected branches of the federal government?

Jackson opened the debate by arguing the Democrats did poorly because they failed to run on an “economic platform.”

“The problem with the economy for the Democrats,” I said, when my moment came, “is that the economy is not doing bad. They were talking the economy down. They were actually rooting for a double-dip recession that didn’t show up.”

“The week before the election,” I said, “we found out the economy grew at a 3.1% rate in the third quarter. Inflation was down. Interest rates were down. Unemployment did not spike this month. It was 5.7%, which, by the way, is the average it held through the ’90s when Bill Clinton was President. So the reason the economic issue didn’t work for the Democrats is because they wanted to raise taxes and the economy is doing well and people are not upset about Bush’s leadership on the economy.”

As I finished, I am told, Jackson appeared dumbfounded.

“Are you saying that we’re better off economically than we were two years ago? Are you saying that?” he said.

“Absolutely, Jesse Jackson,” said I. “If you want to check the statistics put out by Bill Clinton’s government, we started into recession when Bill Clinton was still in office. We then cut taxes with George Bush’s leadership. And despite September 11 and the impact it had on the economy, we grew out of recession in the post-September 11 period. The economy is growing. Unemployment is staying down. Interest rates are down. Inflation is down. Those are the economic facts you have to deal with.”

Jackson shot back: “Two million unemployed workers would not agree with you.” Unemployment, he later pointed out, is up.

Now, the wonderful thing about debating the economy is that truth in this area is not only objective, it is also quantifiable. So who was right, Jackson or me, on the basic question of whether “we’re better off economically than we were two years ago”?

The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calculates growth in the economy as measured by the inflation-adjusted Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Two years ago, in the third quarter of 2000, it was growing at a miserable annualized rate of 0.6%. The economy was headed into what history will record as the Clinton Recession. This year, says the BEA, the economy grew at a rate of 3.1% in the third quarter. Truth: By this measure, we are far better off than we were two years ago.

In 2000, the increase in the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, was 3.4%. So far this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it has averaged 2.6%. In September, it stood at an annualized rate of 1.5%. Truth: We are better off by this measure, too.

What about interest rates? Home mortgage rates this year reached a 40-year low, creating an historical opportunity to buy a home.

Only on unemployment will I grant Jackson any point at all. Through the 1990s, unemployment averaged 5.75% (a bit higher than it is now). During Clinton’s eight years, it averaged 5.2% (a bit lower than it is now). In October 2000 (six years after the election of a Republican House majority) it stood at a low of 3.9%. After that, as the Clinton Recession kicked in, it trended up, peaking at 6.0% this April. It is now trending down again at 5.7%

Yet, in October 1994, just before Clinton’s first midterm election, it stood at 5.8%. That year it averaged 6.1%.

Why did Clinton have a harder time creating jobs pulling out of the recession of the early 1990s, than Bush had pulling out of the latest recession? Two words: Democrats and taxes. In 1993-94, Democrats controlled the entire government and raised taxes. In 2001, when Republicans controlled the entire government, they cut taxes.

Jackson’s plan for America now: Elect Democrats and raise taxes again.

Sorry, Jesse. That won’t create jobs for either regular Americans or Democratic politicians.