Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Neo-Liberal Spin

One of the most objective summaries of Bill Clinton's speech to the assembled delegates last night in Charlotte came from the Journalist Division, Richard Wolf and David Jackson of USA Today, who wrote

The former president did what he does best. He made the case for a Democratic-style economic revival based on investments in individuals and innovation. He stood up for the man who defeated his wife four years ago and stated the case against Mitt Romney better than anyone else has been able to do. For 48 minutes, he delivered a stunning tour de force that had delegates on their feet.

But the best from the Rich Lowry/Chris Matthews Division came from GOP consultant and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, who declared (though he later walked it back a little)

I would recommend to my friend Paul [Begala] here, tonight when everybody leaves, lock the doors. You don't have to come back tomorrow. This convention is done. This will be the moment that probably re-elected Barack Obama. Bill Clinton saved the Democratic Party once, it was going to far left, he came in, the new democrats took it to the center. He did it again tonight.

If Castellanos proves prescient and Clinton's speech did deliver a fatal blow to the bid of Romney-Ryan, the former president presented a tremendous gift to Barack Obama and the nation.

Castellano's impression probably will prove an exaggeration.   But he did accurately observe that, as much as the former President generally skewered the conservative policies of the opposition, he had brought his New Democrats act to the stage, furthering a dangerous narrative.

The defining characteristic of the speech was in Clinton's propensity for ad-libs, a catalogue of which has been helpfully supplied by Juli Weiner of Vanity Fair.   In the remarks as prepared for delivery (transcript, here) and released by the convention’s press office, Mr. Clinton stated (with close of previous paragraph included for veracity)

Renewable energy production has also doubled.

We do need more new jobs, lots of them, but there are already more than three million jobs open and unfilled in America today, mostly because the applicants don’t have the required skills. We have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are being created in a world fueled by new technology. That’s why investments in our people are more important than ever.   The President has supported community colleges and employers in working together to train people for open jobs in their communities.

Improvising, Clinton contended (remarks as delivered, here)

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 -- 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...

"Of course" (as The Big Dog himself put it), there is not an insufficiency of skilled American workers- there is an insufficiency of jobs in America.   Highlighting Clinton's false narrative (which he has been spinning for quite some time now) was his observation "the old economy is not coming back."

It wasn't so long ago that Democrats were appalled- justifiably- of the role Mitt Romney's Bain Capital played in the closure in Kansas City of Steel Dynamics and the loss of 700 jobs and with it, health insurance and pensions.  One ad produced by Obama SuperPac Priorities featured a steelworker maintaining "Romney and Bain, they were businessmen, they had no idea how to make steel. They knew how to make money. They used us just like we were the scrap steel that we melted, you know, we were just a means to an end."   And Obama campaign spokesperson Stephanie Cutter argued "In deal after deal, Romney's first priority was to make a personal profit, regardless of the cost to others."

Perhaps no industry better exemplified "the old economy," nor the decline in employment in American manufacturing, than steel.  It's not for lack of productivity of the American or the incompetence of the companies.   As Richard McCormack observed in December, 2009 in the American Prospect

American companies are among the most efficient in the world. The nation's steel industry, for instance, produces 1 ton of steel using two man-hours. A comparable ton of steel in China is produced with 12 man-hours, and Chinese companies produce three times the amount of carbon emissions per ton of steel. The same kinds of comparisons are true for other industries.

But the steel industry, as with much of manufacturing, may not be "coming back," thanks in part to a long line of American presidents enamored of the euphemistically-termed "free trade."   Deserving blame are Gerald Ford,  Jimmy Carter, Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), and their successors.   Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele explain the North American Free Trade Agreement

was negotiated under President George H.W. Bush, who pledged that the agreement would permit the United States to sell to Mexico "even more of the goods we're best at producing:  computer, manufacturing equipement, high-tech and high-value products."  But NAFTA was sold to Congress and the nation by Bill Clinton.  "I believe that NAFTA will create a million jobs in the first five yeaars of its impact," Clinton  proclaimed on Septmber 14, 1883.  "NAFTA will generate these jobs by creating an export boom to Mexico." Clinton could not count any better than his predecessors...

By 2011 an estimated 1.5 million American jobs had been eliminated by imports from Mexico, according to Economic Policy Institute calculations.  EPI estimated that exports to Mexico supported 791,900 jobs in 2010, meaning a net loss of about 700,000 jobs.  In 2004 EPI had estimated that lost wages from NAFTA job losses were costing American workers $7.6 billion a year.  That's the equivalent of all the annual income of 150,000 American families.

Bill Clinton's slam of "the old economy" (which should be reminiscent of then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's slap at "old Europe") is of a piece with his failure, in a discourse surpassing 50 minutes in length, to mention Bain Capital.  A speech focused on the economy, of Barack Obama's success in steering the nation away from the depression looming upon his ascension to the presidency and Mitt Romney's lack of a viable plan to improve the economy, included no reference to Bain nor to Romney's tax returns, inextricably interwoven with his experience at the private equity firm.   This was no mere oversight, for in another comment altered from the prepared remarks, the ex-President stated

Look, I love our country so much.  And I know we're coming back.   For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we've always come back.  People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticized for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden fake teeth.  And so far every single person that's bet against America has lost money because we've always come back.  We came through every fire a little stronger and a little better.

"And so far every single person that's bet against America," Clinton had added, "has lost money."

One person, however, who did not lose money when he "bet against America" was Mitt Romney- or at least we can assume, absent the tax returns Clinton ignored.    As Maryland Governor (and convention speaker) Martin O'Malley noted on ABC's This Week in early July, Romney

bet against America when he put his money in Swiss bank accounts and tax havens and shelters and also set up a secret company, the shell company in Bermuda.  What went the way of Europe were the Swiss bank account and the American dollars that Mitt Romney stuffed in that offshore Swiss bank account, jobs that he facilitated companies in moving offshore, out of places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

We- the country- got none of that from Bill Clinton.   So we applaud, cheer, and laugh with Bill Clinton and hope that while his address obviously did not deliver the mortal wound Alex Castellanos initially claimed it would to the presidential candidacy offered by the Gas and Oil Party, it put it into critical condition.  Let us not forget, however, that Bill Clinton's secondary cause is Barack Obama.   Bill Clinton's primary cause is Bill Clinton.

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