Our bright shiny object of the moment is Donald Trump’s non-transparent health chat with Dr. Oz — some day, perhaps, they’ll co-host a show called “The Fraud and the Quack” — so as usual there isn’t much room in the political news cycle for matters of substance.
Yeah, substance. Like, for instance, the brand new Census Bureau report, which finds that Americans in 2015 enjoyed the largest single-year boost in median income ever recorded; that middle-class incomes had their fastest growth on record; that this 5.2 percent median income boost was the first annual hike, of any kind, since the Bush Great Recession of 2007-9; that the record-high income boost benefited virtually all races (a 6.1 percent hike for Hispanic households, a 4.4 percent hike for whites, a 4.1 percent hike for blacks); that the national poverty rate saw its largest annual decline since 1968; and that the share of Americans lacking health insurance fell to 9.1 percent, the lowest ever recorded.
Granted, I know that economic stats are very unsexy, that they can’t compete for attention with Trump’s big mouth or Clinton’s mild pneumonia, and that all stats come with caveats (these bullish numbers basically bring Americans back to their earning power of the late ’90s when Hillary’s husband was president). And of course millions of struggling Americans, especially in rural regions and old factory towns, will laugh at these stats and double down on their dream of a Trump-driven recovery.
Nevertheless, even the right-wing American Enterprise Institute says the new stats are impossible to debunk; as economic scholar Aparna Mathur acknowledges, the Census findings are solid proof that “the labor market is recovering.” And rest assured that if the Republicans were currently running the White House, they’d be peppering us with triumphant messaging about their economic stewardship, about how their rising tide was lifting all boats.
But they’re not in the White House; it’s fair game for the Democrats to trumpet these stats. And as Donald Trump himself said on CNN back in 2004, “I’ve been around a long time. And it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than under the Republicans.” (And hey, he’s right!)
Hillary Clinton, who returns to the campaign trail today, has been handed a gift. She can credibly argue (assuming that voters aren’t distracted by new shiny objects) that the Census stats validate President Obama’s tenure, and that building on the Obama economic record is clearly America’s most prudent course … as opposed to risking the progress that has been made by taking a flyer on a demagogue whose public service record is thinner than your local librarian’s.
But we’ll see whether she can successfully leverage the bullish economic news. I’m starting to get Al Gore flashbacks.
Gore’s bid in 2000 fell short for many reasons (Ralph Nader draining away votes in crucial Florida, five high court GOP appointees who dragged popular vote loser George W. Bush across the finish line), but a very big reason was his inability to leverage the aforementioned late ’90s bullish economy to his political advantage. He was a policy wonk who knew way more than his opponent, he was plagued by a false-equivalence media that labeled him a serial liar, nobody cared about the upbeat economic stats bequeathed to him by the outgoing Democratic president …
Why is this sounding familiar?
But since there’s so much else going on, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my favorite moment from yesterday’s news cycle. As part of his purported presidential pivot, Trump journeyed to Flint, Michigan, to show how much the candidate of white grievance really cares about black people. It didn’t go well.
During a stop at a black church, he was repeatedly interrupted by attendees who were quite well-versed about his tenure in the private sector. At one point, he was confronted with complaints about how his far-flung apartment empire had “discriminated against black tenants.”
He actually denied any such discrimination: “No, I never — never would, never would.”
That’s quite a statement, considering the fact that Trump’s empire had a policy of marking black tenant applications with the letter “C.” You know, for “Colored.”
Another day, another baldfaced lie. As Tony Soprano once said, “You know one thing about us wiseguys? The hustle never ends.”