The New Normal?

TPM Reader JM takes a look into a dark future …

I feel compelled to write in part to put together many things that all of you already know and have been reporting on your website for the past couple years. But with the release of the May unemployment numbers–and the strangely widespread consensus that Romney is now the frontrunner (that was fast)–I’ve had some time to reflect on just how damaging the Great Recession has really been.

Many have noted that long term unemployment and reduced GDP growth have effects on the economy far beyond the time during the recession itself. Sociological studies show that people who suffered during the Great Depression *never* got over it–higher lifelong incidence of child abuse, alcoholism, spousal abuse, in addition to permanently reduced income. The typical narrative that the Great Depression was something that made a generation hardier just isn’t true.

This used to be what scared me about the Great Recession: that these circumstances would repeat again for my generation. That’d I would always be living with the economic aftermath of the Great Recession. But this isn’t what scares me anymore. What really scares me is political consequences of this recession. Republicans have perfected an electoral strategy in which they almost never seem to be blamed for obstructing the economy to achieve their party’s electoral goals. That is terrifying. With no discussion of their role (or lack of it) in returning the economy to normal employment, the American electorate seems to have conceded that they just don’t care if one party tries to damage the economy for their own electoral gain. Voters either find it too difficult to figure out or they are too exhausted to care. They just assume the Republican party is pursuing their own self-interests, and they seem to think that strategy is fine even if it diverges from the interests of the country as a whole. In other words, I’m afraid now that the 2010 midterm elections weren’t an anomaly but in fact is a new feature of American political life. Think of it as *What’s the Matter with Kansas?* going intensely national. In this, Obama is the outlier, not Romney.

I’m a cynic, but even I am stunned by this possibility. But it probably says a lot about what national decline might look like. I’ve never subscribed to those notions of decline that have been tossed around since the beginning of the Great Recession, certainly not of economic decline. The United States is richer than ever, and has been growing fairly rapidly for an industrialized economy going through a fiscal crisis. What scares me, though, is the possibility that Republicans have figured out an electoral strategy in which they are never held accountable for the results of their economic policies. The American people just assume they are the craven dissolute son of the family and still rejoice when the prodigal returns (to power that is).

I am hoping that the widespread demographic shifts over the next fifteen years will make this electoral strategy extinct. But that’s still the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is an America dominated by the Republican party *even when they’re in the minority,* even when voters have picked the other team, as it were. This seems wildly out of line with what’s happened in American politics over the past century. I’m worried this is the real change brought about by the Great Recession.