The Eight Fat Years

The White House issued a press release last week declaring this “the Longest Peacetime Economic Expansion in American History.” Chatterbox has a feeling he’ll be Hearing This Phrase again later this month when Clinton delivers his State of the Union address. In effect, the Democrats have finally beaten the Republicans’ previous record-setting stretch from November 1982 to July 1990. That epoch is memorialized by Wall Street Journal editorialist Robert Bartley in his book, The Seven Fat Years, and it goes a long way toward explaining Republicans’ profound nostalgia for Ronald Reagan. Now Sidney Blumenthal can write a book about the Clinton economic miracle and call it The Eight Fat Years. He could even point out that the Democrats did it without creating a budget deficit! Indeed, they did it while wiping out Reagan’s! Perhaps this will inspire a movement to rename the local airport Bill Clinton Washington National.

Chatterbox isn’t going to be a party-pooper and dwell on persistent wage inequality and relatively low productivity. The economy clearly hasn’t been in such good shape since Chatterbox (now aged 41) hit puberty. But Chatterbox does think it’s worth taking note of when this historic expansion began. The White House press release, citing the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, says December was the expansion’s 93rd month, i.e., the expansion “officially began in March 1991.” That’s no great surprise to economists. But it does depart a bit from Bill Clinton’s campaign script in 1992, the year a presidential election was won on “the economy, stupid.” Let’s replay a Clinton TV ad from that campaign featuring visuals of a sputtering George Bush:

Narrator: “1988.”

Bush: “Thirty million jobs in the next eight years.”

Narrator: “1990: America’s jobless rate hits a three-year high.”

Bush: “I’m not prepared to say we’re in recession.”

Narrator: “March 1992: Jobless rate hits six year high.”

Bush: “The economy is strengthening.”

Narrator: “George Bush vetoes unemployment compensation.”

Bush: “The economy continues to grow.”

Narrator: “July 1992: Unemployment is the highest in eight years. If George Bush doesn’t understand the problem, how can he solve it? We can’t afford four more years.”

Chatterbox is not disputing that unemployment was high in 1992, and he’s willing to believe that Bush should have been more generous with unemployment compensation. (He doesn’t remember the details.) Still, the thrust of the ad–that you had to be a fool to think, late in 1992, that the recession was over–cannot be reconciled with the White House’s boast that last month it broke Reagan’s expansionary record.

–Timothy Noah