Just over a week ago, a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll asked Americans which of a list of previous presidents they would pick to manage the current economic crisis...
... about which, if it goes on for years is it still a crisis? Did Americans in 1938 refer to the Great Depression as a crisis? The way I see it, Pearl Harbor was a crisis. World War II was not...
...and I'll get to what the actual results say about actual Americans in a minute, but first, in all the stories I heard reporting about this poll, not one single journalist commented on how they chose the presidents to ask about.
SO, once again, it falls on me, a lowly lawyer/part-time blogger, to do the investigative journalisming, just as I had to do with this important story, and find out whether they artificially limited the choices people could pick, or whether some American somewhere actually picked William Henry Harrison on his/her own.
The poll, which was uniformly reported as "Americans would bring back Reagan before FDR" notes that "some low-percentage answer choices have been omitted" in the fine print at the bottom, which suggests that there were other options, too -- and that less than 1% of the people chose those other options, which still doesn't explain how Tippecanoe made it into the top four, what with his having died forty days into office.
I googled around a bit trying to find out more about which options might have been allowed, but couldn't find anything about the methods used (the overall poll asked a bunch of other questions, like How long can you sit in Starbucks and use the Internet). So it appears that those were the only options which were given; you can take the poll online yourself to get an even less scientific view of how Americans view their past presidents and the current economic situation, and if you do, you'll see that Reagan is losing in online votes:
Which says something else entirely and is open to interpretation. Are Republicans less likely to vote online for something than Democrats? Do traditional Keynesians make more use of the Web than supply-siders? How does William Henry Harrison factor into this at all?*
*Harrison, you probably already know, ran for president twice, once in 1836, where he was part of a split ticket promoted by the Whigs, who hoped to throw the election to the House of Representatives, where they felt they could more easily gain control using cheaper local elections; the plan was to get Whigs elected to the House, take a majority there, and then, when the presidential election ended with no candidate getting a majority of electoral votes, use control of the House to put a Whig candidate into office. Which, in essence, is almost exactly like the GOP's current plans to use the less-expensive local elections to take control of government and then, via redistricting, union-busting, and such measures as giving the governor control over administrative-rule-making, set the stage for bigger wins down the line. Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it, indeed.
Anyway, the major point of this post is not the Republicans are the new Whigs; **
**The Whigs favored a strong public education system, which alone separates them from the current crop of billionaires-who-made-their-money-creating-toxic-waste-financed GOP wastrels who direct public money to the wives of GOP legislators.
it's that Americans may or may not be smarter than many people think. 65% of Americans would choose either Reagan or FDR to steer our national ship away from Scylla of economic downturn while avoiding the Charybdis of inflation, which actually says less about people's political preferences and more about how they actually think the problem should be solved:
Reagan initially cut taxes, primarily on energy-related matters, to help ease the energy crisis that was then holding back the American economy. But by 1982, Reagan had undone nearly 1/3 of his initial tax cuts, and shortly thereafter he increased payroll taxes on individuals to pay for Social Security and Medicare. Reagan also borrowed heavily, tripling the national debt from $997,000,000,000 to $2,850,000,000,000.***
***This author does not believe in shortening important numbers. Saying "$997 billion" and $2.85 trillion" makes those numbers seem relatively equal. Put the zeroes on them, and you can see the growth.
That was Reagan's answer to the economic "crisis" he faced: increase the flow of capital in the area of the economy that was logjammed (then: energy), temporarily increase the money in consumers'/corporations' pockets, and then gradually increase the government revenues again both through growth in the economy*4
*4 on a recent Planet Money podcast, a Worst President Ever-supporting economist pointed out that no credible economist has ever argued that "tax cuts pay for themselves." That man supported the WPE Tax Cuts, but agreed that they did not "pay for themselves."
and increasing taxes.
That suggests an extremely reasonable way to address the current mortgage problem that is bogging down the economy now: Make money available where it is needed. Don't just give banks money and have them hold it. Give borrowers money through the banks and guarantee those; and target tax cuts temporarily by, say, giving banks a one-time break from all income taxes for any mortgage loans refinanced in the next 2 years -- meaning this: If a Bank refinances a loan between now and November 5, 2013, then all income derived from that loan is forever tax free unless and until the bank forecloses on that loan, at which point all tax that should have been paid accumulates and is paid in the year of foreclosure.
See? I've solved the mortgage crisis twice.
FDR, in the meantime, first addressed the Great Depression (which he had no plans for attacking when he was inaugurated; somehow, America was able to vote for a president during an economic crisis without even asking him what he'd do about it) by cutting federal spending -- he reduced federal government workers' pay, then passed a bill that the Hoover administration had authored to stress-test banks and merge unsound banks into larger, better banks (sound familiar?). FDR argued strenuously against deficit spending (while allowing it for what he called "emergency budgets") and opposed a government program that is credited for avoiding bank panics: The FDIC, which insures bank deposits.
All of which is to say: Americans appear to favor only temporarily cutting taxes while increasing federal spending to address economic problems, and are against balancing the federal budget during economic downturns, especially at the expense of government workers.
Or, put more simply: Those who do not learn the lessons of history think choosing Reagan over FDR to address financial problems is somehow an endorsement of current Republicanism. It is not.