Sandra Bullock has a new movie, Our Brand Is Crisis — a title that seems to describe America today. It's about political operatives who help candidates scare people into voting for them.
We do a lot of scaring. No, 5 percent unemployment is not good, says Wall Street; a rate hike is coming! To the panic room! Politicians also thrive on crisis. Even though millions have recently protected themselves against a health catastrophe, Ben Carson says, "Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." And the media amplifies it all, rarely finding the glass full since you get noticed more if the glass is not only empty, but also shattered into a million pieces.
I only met Tom Foley a couple of times, but I'll always remember his advice. The America he knew through its people, he said, was nothing like the America he saw on the TV news. He thought the media was, at times, too cynical to help the nation grapple with its problems.
Since our brand is crisis, let's see how that's playing out in the economy. The mood may best be captured in the immortal words of Larry David channeling Bernie Sanders: "We're doomed!" Donald Trump adds that "China's ripping us... every country that we do business with is taking our base, they're taking our jobs... "
Are they? Unemployment is down to 5 percent here, a figure pegged close to "full employment." There have been 2.8 million new jobs created in the past year; we've been adding jobs for 61 straight months.
John Kasich seems to be a straight shooter, but even he seems stuck in 2009: "We have so many regulations that are choking... businesses, and I think combined with corporate incentives, balancing budgets, deregulation, I think that the American economy will begin to grow again."
Is he aware that it's been growing for years now? GDP has grown in 15 of the past 16 quarters. The U.S. dollar is crushing it. Health care inflation costs are at a 50-year low. Gas is cheap, and energy independence is looking doable. Facts can be pesky when you're manufacturing crisis.
Yes, there are problems. The quality of those new jobs is in question, and we need to better share our nation's success with members of all socioeconomic groups, genders and races.
Still, the glass is more than half full. You won't hear it from the crisis peddlers, but America can afford to work on progressive reforms — stimulus packages, a higher minimum wage, free or subsidized college tuition, clean energy. We could focus on all that and more if people would quit trying to scare the votes out of us.♦