The big political issues in Kansas and across the country this year were the economy and the coronavirus.
The two are intricately linked. And neither is easily controlled.
While both are serious issues, it has been entertaining to watch Republicans spin economic news — over the past several months and the past few years.
Back in 2012, when Democratic President Barack Obama was running for re-election against Mitt Romney, Republicans were furious when Obama claimed that government programs (such things as public schools, highways and small business loans) had helped rich Americans succeed.
Lots of conservatives disagreed, claiming rich Americans had grown wealthy despite the government, not with its help.
But this year, when President Trump claimed that he personally was responsible for Americans’ economic success, the same Republicans applauded their approval.
Here’s an excerpt from Trump’s political rally last month in Omaha, Nebraska:
"I delivered $28 billion to our incredible farmers here in Nebraska and Iowa and all across the country. … Nobody else is doing that. In fact, some people say our farmers do better now than they did when they actually had to farm."
Extra government payments to farmers were approved after Trump started trade wars with many of the nation’s biggest buyers of agricultural goods, which drove farm prices down.
Still, the president often claims, falsely, that he deserves credit for creating the best economy in the history of the world.
He continued to brag about his economic powers even as the nation saw historic losses in its Gross Domestic Product this spring. Trump and Republicans blamed COVID-19, which slowed or shut down big chunks of the economy in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, the nation’s economy rebounded, although not completely.
Trump immediately proclaimed he was responsible for the biggest three months of economic growth ever.
It’s not surprising when a president shifts blame for bad news and takes credit for good news. But no one should be fooled by such rhetoric.
It’s true that big piles of federal money can mitigate economic disasters. It’s also true that government policies can help or hurt international trade, create fair or unfair playing fields, and provide opportunity or disincentives for various economic sectors.
But no one president has the power to control the economy. And no American should think it would be good if a president did wield such authority.
The past 20 to 30 years indicate that the nation has gotten modestly better at governing its economy through regulations and policies overseen by an array of federal agencies and officials.
Our nation’s economy grew mostly slowly but steadily through that period, with the big exception of the severe recession that started in late 2007 and ended in June 2009.
Another significant exception is 2020. We have seen huge drops and gains in GDP because COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and economy in ways we have not experienced before.
Because of COVID-19, we are still in a hole economically, compared to where we were before the pandemic started.
Take the pandemic out of the picture and economic performance during the Trump years was about the same as during the Obama years — steady but slow growth.
That’s not the picture painted by Trump or his partisans. But Americans by now should be wary of politicians who claim superpowers over the economy.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in across Kansas.