Didn't need no welfare state...
George Will does a pretty good job summing up the dilemma faced by Democrats, not only in this election but in those to come. He makes the argument that economic issues don't have the same resonance in presidential elections that they once did:
Economic conditions have lost some of their political saliency because people understand that presidents have precious little control over those conditions -- and that better government policies, especially the Federal Reserve's monetary policy, and better business practices (inventory control, etc.) have made business cycles less menacing.
In the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, contractions were frequent and ferocious enough to fray the social fabric. There were three contractions of 5 percent of GDP, two of 10 percent and two of almost 15 percent. Since 1947 the most severe, that of 1982, was just 1.9 percent. Democrats' unavailing attempts to inflame economic hypochondria founder on a fact that John Makin of the American Enterprise Institute notes:
"By Election Day 22 years (264 months) will have passed since November 1982, and during that time the economy has been in recession just 14 months -- a mere 5 percent of the time. From the end of World War II through 1982, the economy was in recession more than four times as frequently (22.4 percent of the time)."
The traps awaiting both parties, of course, are Social Security and health care, and I'm not sure either party is adequately prepared to deal with these challenges. Another reason that economic issues have been of diminishing importance is because at least two generations of middle class Americans have had access to employee-provided health care and pension benefits. But the cost of private health insurance is skyrocketing, and more and more companies are cutting back or defaulting on pension benefits. I think Kerry's health care proposal is reasonable, but his promise to resist privatization of Social Security, while vowing not to raise taxes or raise the retirement age, means he is either living in fantasy land or pandering. Bush has no realistic plan to address rising health care costs, while his plan to partially privatize Social Security would require Americans to drastically change their saving habits (not a bad thing) and would incur billions in transition costs.
Perhaps by 2008, it could again be the economy, stupid.