This debate is about the real track record

The second presidential debate will focus on the economics of the middle classes, writes CAP's Heather Boushey.

President Obama and Governor Romney are preparing for their next big showdown in New York tonight. This debate will feature audience questions in a “town hall” format. Many Americans, including myself, will want to know who will do more over the next four years for the middle class and who will support the strongest job creation. This is the key challenge facing American and is the political territory that could be most decisive in next month’s election.

Romney will win this debate if he is able to convince the American public that President Obama’s economic policies have been a failure and that his economic plan will generate job gains. Romney claims that his economic plan will create 12 million jobs and that 7 million of them will come about as a result of his tax cuts.

But US economists, including myself, question whether Romney’s job creation claim can be believed. If anything, Romney’s 59-point economic plan will most likely push the US back into a recession. Economists estimate that, at best, it will create around 87,000 jobs in next year, or, at worse, could actually lead to the loss of anywhere between 300,000 to 600,000 jobs.

Romney’s economic plan is a “jobs fail” because it is based on the same economic logic that supply-siders have been pushing on the US economy for some time now. The supply-side story is that if the government gives the wealthy back their taxes, they will invest those added funds, thus growing the economy, creating jobs, and improving middle-class incomes. In the 1980s and 2000s, policymakers did exactly that, but it didn’t work. Both eras experienced significant tax cuts aimed at higher-income households that were supposed to spur investment.

President Obama will win the debate if he runs on his record and exposes the Romney economic plan. Over the past year, the US economy has added 1.8 million jobs, which is a strong track record of solid job gains, month after month. The private sector has added jobs every month for 31 months and the unemployment rate is now where it was when Obama took office.

Jobs have come back because policymakers acted decisively. In February 2009, before he had even been in office a month, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which pumped nearly $800bn into the U.S. economy and stopped the haemorrhaging of jobs. Later that year, the administration helped stabilize the auto industry, which has helped that sector turn itself around into a job-generating industry for 27 of the past 36 months.

If Obama can articulate his record and expose Romney’s plan, tonight’s debate will be a home run. If Romney can avoid scrutiny and run down the President’s record it, could be game on for the third and final debate.

Heather Boushey is Visiting Fellow at IPPR and Senior Economist at CAP

Obama and Romney after the first debate. Photograph: Getty Images

Heather Boushey is a Visiting Fellow at IPPR and senior economist at the Centre for American Progress in Washington DC

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder