George W. Bush apparently decided to seize on a week of mixed (as opposed to uniformly bad) economic indicators to argue that the economy’s turning around. I could try to offer a rebuttal, I suppose, but I’m always a bit taken aback by how dominated political arguments are by disputes about the present state of the economy. The economy was, uncontroversially, doing pretty well in 1998 but pretty much everything progressives would put on the table today would also have been a good idea ten years ago. There’s never a good time for your country to have an inefficient, unfair health care finance system and there’s never a bad time to find economically viable ways of mitigating future environmental catastrophe. Or for those on the other side of the aisle, if lowering the tax burden paid by rich people will have a beneficial “supply-side” effect that sparks broad-based economic growth, then this is a good thing to do whether the economy’s faring well or poorly.
For the most part, good ideas are good ideas rain or shine. Of course the overall economic situation is shown to have impact on voting behavior, but it seems overwhelmingly likely that the causal mechanism is the objective economic conditions facing undecided voters, not disputes between politicians about how to characterize the situation. After all, in a continent-spanning country of about 300 million people lots of individual families’ economic circumstances will deviate from the mean no matter what.