It’s still the economy, stupid

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were elected President primarily because of the economic failures of their predecessors.  Each of them faced a backlash in the midterm elections following their victories, at least partly because of their economic policies.

The same thing will happen to Joe Biden unless he can act decisively and quickly to meet the impeding economic and pandemic crises, according to political scientist Thomas Ferguson in an interview with podcaster Paul Jay. 

Clinton ran in 1992 on the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  But during his two years, he did little to improve the economy.  He pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement, which had been part of the Reagan agenda and was opposed by organized labor.  He failed to get Congress to even consider a health insurance reform bill.  Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in 1994

Obama was elected during the 2008 recession.  His administration rescued failed banks, but did not fully implement a law to rescue victims of foreclosures.  Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

The decisive factor in the 2016 election was the voters, of all races, who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, but either voted for Trump and declined to vote at all in 2016. 

The notion that racism and sexism were the primary factors driving the Trump vote is not borne out by the data, he said.  Economics was very important too.  Trump’s promise to revitalize manufacturing and impose tariffs on imports gave him just enough votes to squeeze out a majority in key industrial states.

The rural working-class found their lives a little better under Trump and don’t believe the Democrats care about them.  Some of this was the momentum of the economic recovery that had begun under Obama.  Much of it, according to Ferguson, was due to the Federal Reserve System artificially pumping up the economy by holding down interest rates.

He said polls indicate Biden’s margin of victory came from voters in the income brackets between $100,000 and $200,000—not the ultra-rich, but not the wage-earning class, either—who are uncertain about their economic future.  Biden’s message was reassurance and a promise of economic stability.

Trump’s gains among Mexican-American voters along the Texas border were due to so many of them working in the oil and gas industry, he said; some of them found construction work in building Trump’s border wall.

The received wisdom is that big business leaders supported Biden over Trump because they thought Trump is too erratic.  Biden did get a lot of campaign contributions from Wall Street, but much of corporate America supported Trump—the oil and gas industry, the pharmaceutical industry and pollution-heavy industries such as pulp and paper making.

Biden ran on a promise of stability.  He told big-money supporters that nothing would fundamentally change if he is elected.

But this is not a promise he can keep.  The United States faces an unemployment crisis, a bankruptcy crisis and an eviction and foreclosure crisis, coinciding with a pandemic and the likelihood of more weather-related disasters.   

Ferguson thinks Biden’s Wall Street supporters probably would be happy with a big infrastructure spending plan, because they could make money out of it.  But corporate America would not support Medicare for all, a higher minimum wage, encouragement of labor unions or the rest of the populist agenda.

Clinton and Obama began their first terms with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, but Biden will take office with a highly partisan Republican Party in control of the Senate.

The coming crisis calls for someone with the political skill and force of character of an Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.  Biden, alas, is in danger of going down in history as another James Buchanan or Herbert Hoover, someone who may have meant well, but was inadequate to the challenge.


If you follow this blog, you know I think highly of Thomas Frank and his writings about the conflict between populism and plutocracy.  I think he is basically right, but he paints with a broad brush.  It is Thomas Ferguson who gets down into the granular detail as to how things work.

I also think highly of Paul Jay.  He started the Real News Network in Toronto in 2007, relocated to Baltimore in 2014 and left under somewhat mysterious circumstances in 2019.  I’m reminded of how Glenn Greenwald left The Intercept.  Jay was able to leave Baltimore before the coronavirus struck and now does podcasts from somewhere in Ontario.


Economics, Not Culture Wars, Drove Most Trump Voters, the transcript of Thomas Ferguson’s recent interview for

Big Business Still Has Enormous Control of American Politics at Every Level, an interview of Thomas Ferguson by Jacobin magazine from last July.

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “It’s still the economy, stupid”

  1. Notes To Ponder Says:

    Well said, great perspective. Thank you. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: