Bill Clinton spoke a long time last night at the Democratic Convention, longer than was planned. I thoroughly enjoyed his easy and simple chat. Probably because I've said all those things before on this blog, at various times. Hmmm. I wonder if his speech writers read me?
Just joking though a goddess can always hope. Still, I was surprised when some observers found his speech confusing or complicated. He carried out the job that the Obama administration has utterly failed to perform, that of clearly and simply listing its victories and defending its performance against the critics. The major point to take home was this one:
In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re- election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: "We left him a total mess. He hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in."
Which is true. Additional good points:
We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that "We're all in this together" is a far better philosophy than "You're on your own."
So who's right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private- sector jobs. So what's the job score? Republicans: twenty-four million. Democrats: forty-two. (APPLAUSE)
Now, there's -- there's a reason for this. It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination, and ignorance restrict growth.
So let's get back to the story. In 2010, as the president's recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around. The Recovery Act saved or created millions of jobs and cut taxes -- let me say this again -- cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people.
And in the last 29 months, our economy has produced about 4.5 million private-sector jobs.
We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president's job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here's another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans: zero.
The Republicans in the House and Senate made quite sure that Obama couldn't do better with the economy. This is important to stress, given the Republican campaign argument that the Obama administration is a failed administration.
What about Clinton's facts in general? FactCheck.org finds the speech mostly factual, with a few exaggerations and a few debatable cause-effect assertions.
One might talk about the gaps in the speech, the things not said. It's still true that Bill Clinton was the best moderate Republican president of the last fifty years and that Barack Obama is right now shaping to be the second best moderate Republican president. The seeds of our current harvest of economic depression and increasing income inequality were eagerly sown by the previous Republican administrations, true, but Bill Clinton was also out there with his seed basket and trowel, when he expanded corporate access to easy outsourcing and helped to adjust the blinders on the regulators of the stock markets. And the 1990's economy shared something with the economy of the early 2000s: both were built on unsustainable bubbles, the first on the dotcom idea as Our Savior and the second on both war and housing bubbles.
Now I feel as if I'm complaining of a toothache from the DNC when the RNC offered me nothing but slow and painful end. Thus, it's important to stress that the Republican alternatives to the Clinton and Obama administrations would have been much worse. Just think of the eight years of George W. Bush, slipped between the two Democratic reigns.
In an ideal world we could do much better but then pigs could fly if they could buy boarding passes.
One criticism which doesn't fit into the general discussion above: The idea of a skill deficit among the United States workers and the need to fix it:
Of course, we need a lot more new jobs, but there are already more than 3 million jobs open and unfilled in America, mostly because the people who apply for them don't yet have the required skills to do them. So even as we get Americans more jobs, we have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are actually going to be created. The old economy is not coming back. We've got to build a new one and educate people to do those jobs.
The president and his education secretary have supported community colleges and employers in working together to train people for jobs that are actually open in their communities. And even more important, after a decade in which exploding college costs have increased the dropout rate so much that the percentage of our young people with four-year college degrees has gone down so much that we have dropped to 16th in the world in the percentage of young people with college degrees.
So the president's student loan reform is more important than ever. Here's what it does. Here's what it does. Here's what it does.
It's certainly the case that education in the US needs to be improved but I'm not at all sure that the mantra of "college for everybody" would work. That seems to be based on a worldview where all American workers are managers or white-collar or pink-collar office workers. Who is going to do all the rest of the necessary work? Is it people in China and India? Or computers and robots?
It's not the importance of education that I quibble with but the somewhat mythical idea that if we all had B.A.s and B.Sc.s then the labor market would boom. Or in other terms, that firms would start hiring immediately if they could just find more college-educated workers. We need better education for manual or blue-collar jobs, I think, and we need general education about how to be a human being (arts, music, sport, literature, political knowledge). But I'm not convinced that having a higher and higher percentage of students spend four years in a college to learn how to work computers is the best way to achieve this. Or the cheapest.