While world-wide elite opinion breathes a sigh of relief at the euro-affirming results of this past weekend’s parliamentary election in Greece, yet another difficult summit meeting is underway now in Mexico. Meanwhile the mess European elites have created continues, while on this side of the Atlantic we contemplate with increasing unease how Europe’s economic deterioration may further undermine our own economic recovery and irrationally impact our presidential campaign.
While Europe’s impact on our economy may be significant (and severe), its impact on the campaign can only be classified as irrational. As Stephen D. Biddle, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, remarked in yesterday’s New York Times, “Both candidates have to pretend that the U.S. presidency is far more influential over events than it really is.” In our obsessive media and sound-bite driven political culture, to admit the obvious – that Presidents have limited ability to control the economy – is unacceptable. Thus “to admit this is to look weak or to seem to evade responsibility,” Biddle said. “So both candidates tacitly agree to pretend that their policies are capable of righting the American economy while their opponent’s would sink it, when the reality is that both are in thrall to foreigners’ choices to a degree that neither would acknowledge.”
Indeed, the ironic premise of the opposition campaign seems to be that, while the challenger and his party maintain that government really is not the engine for fixing the economy and would best get out the market’s way, the contradictory claim is constantly made that the incumbent President is to blame for failing to fix the economy and that, if elected, new President would somehow be able to do so!
My guess is that there are certainly some things government could do, but very little government can do right now given the ideological partisan divide and consequent gridlock. After all, everyone remembers how hard it was for President Bush to get Congress to cooperate when the economy was clearly careening off a cliff back in 2008! And, if anything, I think the divide is even deeper now.
And I doubt there is too much any President can do on his own to fix Europe’s self-inflicted euro-mess!