Desperate to shore up its highly vulnerable economic flank, Team Bush is turning positively delusional. Despite more bad news on the jobless recovery front -- 129,000 fewer new jobs in February than forecast -- the White House spinmeisters are acting like everything is coming up roses.
"The economy is moving in the right direction -- don't let anyone tell you otherwise," chirped Vice President Dick "Pollyanna" Cheney.
"Every single economic indicator that we have today is positive," chimed in administration mouthpiece Rep. David "Little Mary Sunshine" Dreier.
The president himself is doing his part to spread the phony sweetness and light. At one of the staged-for-the-cameras "Conversations on the Economy" he's been holding on the campaign trail, President Bush got downright giddy at the prospect of a Bakersfield, Calif., stock car builder hiring two new workers at his business.
"That's really good news," he gushed. "A lot of people are feeling confident and optimistic about our future so they can say, 'I'm going to hire two more.' That's confidence!" Actually, Mr. President, getting all worked up about two prospective jobs in a city that has a 12.8 percent unemployment rate and has lost 4,400 jobs since you took office is living in a state of denial.
But no matter how many times their cheery economic projections come up short, the Bush faithful keep pitching the GOP party line: that the president's tax-cut-crazed policies are, as Cheney recently put it on MSNBC, "exactly the right medicine at the right time."
Unless you're suffering from chronic unemployment syndrome. According to the latest estimates, almost 10 percent of American workers cannot find a job. Large numbers of them have given up trying to find one, and many have settled for part-time jobs with no healthcare benefits.
But that doesn't seem to faze the White House. In late February, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said that when it comes to the state of the U.S. economy, "the stock market is, after all, the final arbiter." You know working stiffs are in trouble when the secretary of labor believes that the stock market is the end-all of our country's economic health.
When the president and his people tell you that everything in the economy is looking good, it's because they are looking at a highly selective measure of our economic well-being, namely the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Remember the tidal wave of good press that followed the announcement that the GDP has risen 8.2 percent in the third quarter of 2003? Many in the media were ready to declare game over and hand Bush the keys to a second term. As we've since seen, the victory dance was as premature as that "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
The trouble is the GDP is actually a woefully distorted and inadequate scorecard. It is little more than a gross tally of all goods and services -- a raw number that doesn't differentiate between transactions that add to the well-being of our country and those that diminish it. Thus, a dollar spent sending a kid to prison is just as valuable as a dollar spent sending a kid to college.
So here is a modest proposal: Let's have two GDPs. One would be based on the current model, which would reflect corporate profits (which are up 46 percent). The other would factor in such things as joblessness; the inability of wages to keep up with steep increases in medical, housing and education costs; the 34 million Americans living in poverty; and the 43 million with no health insurance.
Taking a step in this direction, Redefining Progress, a think tank dedicated to promoting sustainability, has developed what it calls the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), an alternative measure of economic growth that factors in close to two dozen aspects of our economic well-being that the GDP ignores. The group's executive director, Michel Gelobter, describes the GPI as "the GDP minus heart attacks, prison time and clear-cut forests. But adding back in volunteerism and time people spend with their families." Just last week the group released its latest GPI analysis, which found that current GDP figures overestimate the health of our economy by $7 trillion.
With that damning figure, maybe the Kerry campaign can finally force the Bushies to take off the rose-colored shades they've been hiding behind and allow the American people to see them for what they indisputably are: "the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen."
Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of 10 books. Her latest, Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America will be published this month.
If you could distill the Bush administration down to a single thing, it would be this: a complete inability -- indeed a pathological aversion -- to changing course, even when the current course is taking us over a cliff.
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