What a surprise! Really! Eric Zorn repeats the Obama-Democratic Party distortion

Taking a bullet for Obama and the Democratic Party

My good friend, Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune opinion columnist and blogger, took a bullet for his fellow Democrat, President Obama, yesterday, using about one half of his “Change of Subject” print page to, well, change the subject and match the equivalent  of a “white lie,” by Congressman Schock with a more significant distortion of  Zorn’s own.

 Zorn- Mr. Fair and Balanced?   

As regular viewers of my Public Affairs TV show will know, I have not been shy about showering Zorn with accolades when he has been a frequent guest on my show.  First, I have noted that he is perhaps the most graceful column writer in town. Don’t take my word for it; ask anyone who knows good writing. Second, I have said he is perhaps the fairest opinion journalist in town. Zorn is not shy about writing opinion columns. But, he also spends a lot of time creating venues or forums in his columns and blog for opposing viewpoints to be presented and argued [a rhubarb patch on his blog, point/counterpoint with Dennis Byrne in their columns, etc].

Further, liberal and conservative opinion journalists share one thing in common; they tend to bat 100%.  They are predictable, if nothing else. Ask a liberal (say, Carol Marin) or a conservative (say, Dan Proft) opinion journalist twenty questions and you get twenty liberal or conservative answers, respectively.  For Zorn, ask him twenty questions and you may get sixteen liberal answers and four conservative ones.  But, liberals would agree with Reagan, if you’re my friend 80% of the time, you’re my friend. Eric Zorn is the liberals’ friend.

Zorn: Following ideas to their logical conclusion?

More troublesome to liberals, however, is that Zorn wonders off the reservation on important matters. For example, on abortion, gun control and campaign finance law, his liberal batting average is only one for three, good for baseball, but not so good for Zorn’s liberal friends. For example, Zorn will tell liberals he follows ideas to their logical conclusion and he doesn’t see much logic in taking guns away from the good guys while the bad guys keep theirs. He also doesn’t see much sense to capping campaign contributions. But, on abortion, Zorn is pretty much a down the line liberal, opposing any government restrictions on a woman’s “right to choose.”  So, yes, on those three important public policy questions from liberals, Zorn is hitting 333.  Good for a baseball player, but not so good  for a liberal columnist from the liberals' perspective.

However, the cost of his independence of thought is that Zorn must, from time to time, come to the defense of silliness, on behalf of the liberal cause.  It is a way of showing the liberals he is with them, when it counts.  We understand. If Zorn wants access to President Obama, the hometown favorite, he had best defend him on the important matters, even if it requires a little slight of hand. That is, it is time for Zorn to “spend down,” on behalf of Obama and liberals some of that “fairness capital” he has accumulated.

Cong. Schock’s equivalent of a White Lie

One of team Obama’s arguments on the economy will be that “relentless Republican obstructionism,” either prevented Obama from passing his economics legislation or caused him to water it down to the point of ineffectiveness.”  So Zorn jumps on Congressman Schock for the downstate Congressman’s equivalent of a “ white lie,” that “For two years, [Obama] had complete, unadulterated control of the federal government.”  As Zorn correctly notes, for much of that two year period, the Democrats were a vote or two short of the “filibuster-proof 60 vote majority in the Senate.” So Schock exaggerated a bit?  Hardly worth crucifying him.

You can't always get what you want but if you try some time, you get what you need 

Indeed, the main point of Cong. Schock’s thesis was that President Obama “got every… piece of legislation he wanted to try to …turn around the economy…”   And nothing Zorn writes tends to dispute that. When Obama really needed the moderate Republicans, they were there to give him an effective “filibuster proof 60.” The liberal Maine Bobsey Twins and Specter makes three.  What more could Obama ask for? So, Zorn is using Schock’s slight stretch to diminish the Congressman’s main thesis, even though such a use is totally unwarranted. That’s Eric Zorn’s slight of hand. Much worse than Schock’s equivalent of a white lie.

The Obama stimulus and 8% unemployment

Team Obama essentially argued in January, 2009, that passing their 800 billion dollar stimulus legislation would keep the unemployment rate from exceeding 8%. [However, evidence of the specific statements made is ambigous].   One month later, House Speaker Pelosi rammed the bill thru the House and Senate majority leader Harry Reid rammed the legislation thru the Senate, with 58 Democrats and three moderate Republican Senators: Collins, Snowe and Specter supporting the bill. This was the centerpiece of the Obama economic plan. And, he sure didn't have much trouble getting this thru Congress.

The unemployment rate subsequently exceeded eight percent, nine percent and ten percent and it is still above eight percent, with the unemployment rate ticking up, not down, last month to 8.2%, more than three and one half years after the Obama stimulus plan was passed.  Most would agree that Obama outsourced the stimulus legislation to his detriment to Senate Majority Leader Reid and then House Speaker Pelosi, and the stimulus attributes of the spending suffered immeasureably from their leadership. If Zorn wants to blame anyone for the failure of the Obama stimulus plan, he might turn his attention to Reid and Pelosi and cut Schock some slack, or perhaps the blame goes to President Obama for delegating those tasks to Reid and Pelois.  As President Truman noted, the buck stops with the President.

Obama got what he wanted but not what the economy needed  

Prior to taking office, Obama got the bank bailout legislation that President Bush, Treasury Secretary Paulson, Fed Chief Bernanke, Republican presidential candidate McCain and presidential candidate Obama all wanted. After taking office, President Obama got the auto industry bailout/structured bankruptcy that he wanted and that treated his union buddies better than if they had gone through a “normal bankruptcy.” Crony capitalism, anyone?

Obama got most of the legislation he sought to provide assistance to mortgage borrowers and lenders. Obama got the financial sector reform legislation [Dodd-Frank] that he argued was crucial to economic recovery.  Finally, when he had the 60 vote filibuster proof majority in December, 2009, President Obama got his signature healthcare legislation through the U. S. Senate on a party line vote Team Obama has argued that healthcare reform was instrumental to an economic recovery. The markets seem to disagree.

Team Obama’s explanation for the weak economic recovery

In short, it is hard to argue that President Obama did not get the legislation he sought to promote and bring about economic recovery in the United States.   Indeed, the primary campaign arguments of Obama’s re-election effort are that (1) the economic crash in the U. S. was worse than Team Obama anticipated (thus the 800 billion dollar stimulus should have been larger, in their view), (2) The economic problems in Europe. are beyond Obama’s control and they are slowing, if not crushing, the U. S. economic recovery  and (3) perhaps it was a mistake to focus on healthcare reform first, but it didn’t really hurt the economy to do so (See my recent interview with long time, senior Obama adviser Dan Shomon).

So, EricZorn’s complaint about Cong.Schock is largely irrelevant. Yes, it was an exaggeration for Cong. Schock to say, “For two years, President Obama had complete, unadulterated control of the federal government.” But, for some of that time, the President indisputably did have “complete, unadulterated control.” Two, for the remainder of that two year period, President Obama was damn close to having full control, especially as it related to the economy. Three, and most importantly, Obama got his stimulus plan; he got his financial sector bailout; he got his TARP; he goes his financial sector reform; he got his mortgage assistance; he got his student loan industry takeover; he got his Obamacare legislation; and he got his two Supreme Court nominees.  President Obama certainly got what he wanted and Obama thought he got what he needed.

What didn’t President Obama get? A robust, economic recovery. In light of the above, how could that failure of Obama’s possibly be blamed on Republican obstructionism? It can’t. So, please, Eric Zorn, be the fair guy that we know you to be and stop repeating the Democratic Party digression and distortion. It is very unbecoming.

For the real explanation for the failure of the 2008 Obama Keynesian economic plan, stay tuned to this blog.




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  • I read "following the trail of Money" with interest but was disappointed to come here and read more of your "logic". It is interesting that you accuse your "supposed good friend" Zorn of distortions when your premises are also distorted and one sided as you "claim" his were.

    As a Economist and CPA for the past 30 years, servicing wealthy individuals and large closely held companies, I have some idea of the issues our economy faces. I also have some idea of the best approach to keeping things stable, in a unstable and frankly scary world wide economy. One thing I can guarantee you is that lowering capital gains rates will benefit one class only. Over the years I have seen capital gains rates increase and decrease (they were highest under President Reagan by the way) and the funny thing is, I saw the wisest business choices being made when rates were higher, not lower. These wiser choices were the ones that generated additional businesses and investments. It is not surprising the wiser long term choices are made when the overall "cost" tends to be higher. There is more at stake when the cost to carrying investments can be high versus when investments can be bought and dumped at little tax consequence. In addition I have never ever heard any of my wealthy clients comment that they felt the higher rates were onerous (They may be a bit miffed..but never claimed.."that's not fair!!"). What they did say is that they spent more time looking at what to invest in and were less likely to sell off a good investment. Wise choices for anyone and wise choices for our overall economy.

    In addition, as a CPA and economist for 30 years, I can guarantee you that your support of "tickle down" economics doesn't work (i.e. focusing benefits on the wealthy or on businesses, with minimal benefits going to the middle class and the poor) . It didn't work when Reagan's regime coined the phase and it doesn't work now. The "divide" between the middle class and the wealthy has broaden significantly since the 1980's (when trickle down became popular). That is nothing new, however the recession and flat state of the economy has caused the divide to widen even more.

    Who supports our economy? You truly believe the wealthy do? You would be surprised on how little they actually do send actively back into our economy. Most sit on their wealth, including businesses today. Businesses currently have the ability to hire but are failing to do so and many are sitting on enormous pools of excess cash reserves. The bottom line is that it is primarily the middle class that supports our economy. However, as the financial divide becomes greater, their ability to support the economy lessens. Unfortunately, without a healthy middle class our economy can not be healthy. Therefore, we need incentives for everyone, not just focusing on the wealthy. We do need tax policies that are fair and reasonable to all. The middle class and the poor need the most help, they need incentives (tax and other) and they need jobs. They are the ones spending the money, they are the ones supporting corporate america. They are also the ones with the least amount of disposable, discretionary income after taxes.

    After 30 years of actual experience, reading journals and following discussions of well known economists I do know what I am saying above is not new to most economists. Yes, there are some economists supported with conservative funds that will keep on supporting the conservative "mantra". However, if you move further away from the right and listen to the viewpoints of unbiased economists, review the information available from other then right wing sources, and lastly listen to those that are active in the field you will get a entirely different viewpoint.

    Finally being DAMN CLOSE (your words) not the same as having control. You should know that and you should also be able to understand that it does make a difference, especially with the tea party trying to control and manipulate the Republican base. In addition, these same members have been obstructing reasonable legislation some of which would have benefited the country as a whole (including legislation that was largely derived from the republicans themselves). Many republicans do realize their party is doing this so there is truly no need to try and deny it is happening.

    Good luck! As a professional with 30 years of experience I would advise you to expand your base of information and broaden your horizons. You will be better informed and have a greater ability to engage in knowledgeable discourse with those around you.

    Thank you.


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