Good Night, George


Los Angeles. -- Are you better off than you were four years ago? Most of us are not, to the point that we may not only make George Bush a one-term president, but could even elect a man most of us feel we do not know -- in a landslide.

Four years ago, then-Vice President Bush said something sad but true: "For the Democrats to do well, the country has to do badly."

Now, obviously the country is doing badly. This part of it, California, is doing very badly. Unemployment in Riverside County is now more than 15 percent.

There will be a lot of lessons examined after this interesting and important election. One political lesson will be that to win you have to run. If Bill Clinton wins, it will be because he was willing and ready to run -- Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! -- when most everyone in the Democratic Party believed there was no chance to win.

The most important lesson at a higher level than candidates' ambition is the oldest one in the republic: People vote their pocketbooks. Issues of war and peace, character and values, all pale if you are part of the unlucky 15 percent in Riverside.

All that is as it should be. One can argue that the world doesn't owe you a living -- I would argue it does; that's why we organized it -- but certainly your own government owes you a full effort to monitor and, where it can, regulate and assist both the producers and consumers of the private sector.

That, President Bush did not do for reasons that may include ideology, lack of interest or just plain confusion and incompetence. That may cost him, and if it does, he deserves anything that happens to him six weeks from now. By the numbers recording growth of the gross national product, George Bush is the worst president since Herbert Hoover.

But Mr. Bush is not the issue; economic failure is the issue. There may be a big lesson in that: Despite being seen as economic villains by chambers of commerce and such, Democrats are generally better for most of the people most of the time.

The statistics for growth of GNP (in constant dollars) bear witness for the Democrats. These numbers, compiled by McGraw Hill, the publishing company, record the average annual growth of the U.S. economy under the past 11 presidents:

Herbert Hoover (1929-33)...... ...... -6.8%

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45)....... 7.2%

Harry S. Truman (1945-53)..... ....... 1.9%

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61) ....... 2.0%

John F. Kennedy (1961-63)..... ....... 4.8%

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69)... ....... 4.6%

Richard Nixon (1969-74)....... ....... 2.4%

Gerald Ford (1974-77)......... ....... 2.0%

Jimmy Carter (1977-81)........ ....... 2.9%

Ronald Reagan (1981-89)....... ....... 2.7%

George Bush (1989-92)......... ....... 1.0%

So the average growth for the 32 years under Republican presidents (Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush) has been less than 1 percent. The average growth under 32 years of Democratic presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Carter) has been more than 4 percent.

Here are some other Bush administration numbers as compiled by the Los Angeles Times over the past four years: Unemployment, up from 5.4 percent to 7.6 percent; median household income, down from $31,344 to $30,126; population below poverty line, up from 13 percent to 14.2 percent; federal budget deficit, by year, up from $155.1 billion to $333.5 billion.

How can all this be true, if the Republicans are the party of business? The answer is that the Democrats are a party of both business and government. Two heads work better than one -- and partnership economic policies almost always work better over the long run in a complicated world than do the kind of laissez-faire economics, meaning "do nothing" in this case, that President Bush has practiced these past four years.

Good night, George.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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