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Hurricane Economy

By Frank Gruber

September 6, 2011 -- Not to alarm anyone unnecessarily, but the days are getting shorter. This summer went by fast, but then they always do. Personally, I’m not complaining, but generally I sense a feeling of dissatisfaction, that this year’s summer was not summery enough.

There was no escape. The national mood couldn’t be summarized by some silly summer song that swept the nation; oh, for the Lovin Spoonful or Mungo Jerry. (But I’ll be honest -- I am out of touch with what’s new in pop music these days, so if in fact the summer was summarized by a silly song that swept the nation, please let me know.)

There was, of course, the impasse in Washington, the constant bickering, the standoff over the debt ceiling. They had an earthquake back east. And aren’t hurricanes supposed to come after Labor Day?

And even if you’re not in a tornado, earthquake or hurricane zone, the whole country’s had Hurricane Economy to deal with. My wife and I still have work we get paid for, but that only makes me feel like I’m living in one of those movies from the Depression where you can’t tell there is a Depression. Not like I’m putting on my top hat and dusting off my tails, but here in Santa Monica you go to a restaurant that’s full or you read that Apple’s going to build a big store on the Promenade, and you figure the economy must be picking up, and then you read about the collapse of the housing market and all those construction jobs that are gone and you wonder if things will ever get better.

Hurricane Economy affects everything. If the economy was humming, there wouldn’t be deficits worth worrying about -- and I’m not referring primarily to the federal deficit. Local and state governments wouldn’t be panicked over the funding of pensions if tax receipts were higher and pension funds were making better returns on their investments.

Which brings up politics, because the 2012 presidential election is underway, and Hurricane Economy is a Category 3 waiting offshore. Like Democrats in the summer of 2007, Republicans smell blood in the water, and for good reason. The only presidents since World War I who ran for but didn’t win reelection (Hoover, Carter, and George H.W. Bush) had to run when the economy was ugly.

Liberals, the Left, or progressives, whatever name they use, don’t seem to understand this. Or at least many don’t. Barack Obama is their president, just as George W. Bush was the right-wing's president. Given America as it is, liberals are never going to get, or at least are not likely to get, a president with values like Obama’s in our lifetimes, unless Obama himself is reelected, Democrats take back the House, and Obama and a Democratic Congress can elevate the liberal brand to where it was before 1968.

I don’t mean to exaggerate this, since polls show that President Obama remains overwhelmingly popular with Democrats, and even his leftwing critics, when you talk to them, typically end their criticism with something like, “but of course I’ll vote for him.” But deferred support is not enough. Many on the left still believe they have the luxury of criticizing Obama, of not taking his side 24/7. You saw this last week in connection with the flap over the scheduling of President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on the jobs crisis.

There were many ways the screw-up with Speaker of the House John Boehner could have been spun, but many on the Left accepted the rightwing, Fox News narrative that Obama’s agreeing to a change of date was more evidence that he was weak. Critics on the Left demanded that Obama confront Boehner and insist on the original date, as if it was a playground spat between fifth-graders.

They should remember Jimmy Carter, and how the Left helped the Right take him down. Carter was an effective president who by today’s standards looks positively leftwing, but that didn’t matter once the Right got hold of his cardigan sweater. Then, once weakened, Ted Kennedy, representing the disappointed Left, went after him, too. What the Right is trying to do to Obama now is from the same playbook, and they’re counting on the same help from their political opposites.

In Obama’s case, the “weakness” label is even more unjustified than it was with Carter. Against unswerving, don’t-give-an-inch opposition the Obama administration has achieved, one-step-at-a time, so many liberal goals, often in areas that don’t receive any significant attention in the press. True, sometimes that one-step-at-a-time is two steps forward, one step back, such as last week’s delay of the clean air rules to 2013, but ever since the summer of 2007, when Obama’s campaign for president was being written off, as a politician he has shown that he plays a deep game.

And no doubt President Obama will need a long game plan to win reelection: the economy he will face will be far worse than the one Carter faced in 1980, or that George H.W. Bush faced in 1992.

The 2012 campaign has begun. Liberals have to decide now whether they are on the bus or off it, part of the solution or part of the problem.

* * *

Congratulations to David Martin on his appointment as Santa Monica’s new Planning Director, and congratulations to City Manager Rod Gould for making the appointment from within the City’s staff. (See story David_Martin_Named_Santa_Monica_Planning_Director, September 2, 2011.)

Mr. Martin is well-qualified by both experience and demeanor to take over this important and challenging position. While an argument for bringing in “new blood” to any organization can always be made, my impression over the years in Santa Monica, looking at both the City and the School District, is that often hiring decisions are unnecessarily turned into search spectacles, when a simple promotion might be in order.

Santa Monicans justifiably have a lot of pride in their little municipality, and they want the best, but there can be as much good in continuity as there is in innovation. Given how much, in the area of planning, the city has digested in the past decade, what with the LUCE and various big projects, and how much remains to be digested, this time Mr. Gould chose continuity and that seems right.

If readers want to write the editor about this column, send your emails to The Lookout at .

If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
The Lookout.


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