The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting chart on its front page earlier this month showing how unemployment rates have fluctuated during Republican and Democratic administrations since the days when Dwight Eisenhower was president back in 1953.
Except for about four years during Ronald Reagan's two terms in office, unemployment rose during Republican years and dropped when Democrats were in the White House.
Under Ike, for instance, the jobless rate went from Democrat Harry Truman's 2.8 percent to 6.1 percent. It dropped to 5.7 percent in JFK's shortened term and fell back to 3.4 percent under Lyndon Johnson. During Richard Nixon's and Gerald Ford's reigns it ballooned back to 7.8 percent by the time Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected, and when Reagan took over in 1981 it had dropped to 7.5. It declined further to 5.3 percent in 1989, but under Reagan's GOP successor, George H.W. Bush, it climbed back to 7.4 percent.
During Democrat Bill Clinton's two terms — 1993 to 2001 — unemployment dropped to 3.9 percent, but went soaring back to 6.8 percent under George W. Bush. Since Barack Obama took office in 2009 it has dropped to 4.6 percent.
I recount all this because I'm befuddled by those who fret about America's middle class and then turn around and hand the keys to the national economy to those who continually have the worst record of guiding it. Time and again we've given Republicans carte blanche to practice their theory about "trickle-down" economics and time and again they've failed. Donald Trump's pledges to lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations amount to more of the same.
Yes, it's true that while the economy has improved significantly these past few years all too many Americans haven't gotten their fair share. But while this past election demonstrated citizens' frustration and their demands for change, most of the politicians who continually thwarted Obama's programs aimed at improving the lot of working people were returned to office to continue their fascination with policies that have created the biggest gap between the rich and the poor in American history.
It was one thing for angry white working people to vote for Donald Trump's promises to drain the Washington, D.C., swamp, but quite another to send the likes of Ron Johnson and his fellow Republican obstructionists to continue their fight against help for low-income Americans, to further disable the labor unions that have been most responsible for creating the middle class, and to loosen the regulations on the money-changers who crippled the economy in the first place.
Here in Wisconsin — where voters saw fit to return to the Legislature the Republicans who have cut funds for public education, weakened the University of Wisconsin and refused to raise the minimum wage — it was revealing when one day after the election, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel gloated over winning a case against the Obama administration's overtime law that gave pay raises to millions of low-wage Americans, including thousands in Wisconsin.
Indeed, Republicans majorities in the Legislature and Scott Walker in the governor's office have worked overtime themselves on initiatives that by design favor the wealthy at the expense of working people. They've battled living wages for government workers, they've dismantled living-wage provisions in local government projects, they've made it more difficult to join a union.
And in addition to filling his financial jobs with Wall Street insiders, Donald Trump has named a fierce anti-union fast-food CEO the secretary of the Department of Labor. Andy Puzder would rather use robots than pay workers the minimum wage at his Carl's Jr. and Hardee's restaurants.
It'll be interesting to see how any of this translates into a better shake for working Americans who voted for change.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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