Running Against Ghosts


Specters haunt our political discourse. For decades, Republicans have tried to frame their Democrat opponents as the next Jimmy Carter. For a couple of generations, Democrats tried to paint every Republican as another Herbert Hoover. But as the voters who lived through those disastrous presidencies have died off, the tactic has lost its emotional connection to the electorate’s personal experiences and become less useful. My parents were in high school during the Hoover administration; I wasn’t born until after World War II. Their understanding of the early years of the Great Depression are personal; mine are second hand. Similarly, my son was born during the Reagan Administration, so he has no memories of Jimmy Carter as President.

Thus, it would seem that we should see the Republican’s running against Carter to peter out over the next few years just as the Democrats have given Hoover a rest.

Except that it appears that the Democrats are so desperate for something to run on that they’re bring  back comparing their opposition to Hoover. Bret Stephens has a piece over at the New York Times called Herbert Hoover’s Ghost comparing President Trump’s tariff policies with the Smoot-Hawley disaster of the early 1930’s. Of course, the world economy is very different today than it was in 1930, so even if Trump’s policies are mistaken (and I think some are), his tariffs won’t cause world trade to contract by over 60 percent as happened almost 90 years ago. Indeed, the weak recovery from 2009 to 2017 was quite similar to the weak recovery from 1933 to 1941. Yet, Stephens predicts:

The darker echoes of the 1930s are sounding louder. The shadow of Hoover grows longer. We know how this movie ends.

If the recent past is prolog, I expect the movie’s script to end with a plot twist the says the Trump’s policies were the result of collusion with the Russians and fully outlined in the emails that were missing from the server in Hillary Clinton’s bathroom. I also expect that movie’s script will not reflect what happens in the Real World.

One thought on “Running Against Ghosts

  1. One of the biggest differences between now and then is that the Hoover tariffs were slapped on everything. These tariffs apply to only steal and aluminum. Wanna know where Canada gets most of its steal and aluminum? China. Yes, China and the rest of the world exploit the NAFTA loophole that allows them to ship their goods to Canada and Mexico, thereby avoiding tariffs if they were to export directly into the US. Canada and Mexico have received a piece of the action, and have built their economies on taking advantage of this loophole. In my view, the loophole was intentional from the beginning, and Trump is merely closing it and undoing what the last few administrations have left in place.

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