Magazine article The New Yorker

Just Forget It

Magazine article The New Yorker

Just Forget It

Article excerpt

Tampa was widely considered a dubious choice for the Republican National Convention. Florida? In late August? The supposition was upgraded to a certainty when the approach of Hurricane Isaac cancelled the first day of the proceedings. In the event, the storm barely ruffled Tampa Bay, and the city turned out to be the ideal place for Republicans to nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to lead them against Barack Obama. The Convention showcased a Party and an ideology that want to obliterate any memory of what happened in America before Obama's Presidency--and Tampa embodies the politics of erasure.

The story should not bear repeating, but it does. The global economic crisis began in Tampa, and places like it, where shoddy lending practices, years of flat wages masked by consumer debt, Wall Street's insatiable appetite for profits, and lax regulation created an economy dependent on one thing: the price of real estate. When that began to plummet, Florida was among the first states to be hit. Homeowners abandoned the brand-new subdivisions around Tampa Bay, and their delinquent mortgages, entering the economic bloodstream, infected the rest of the world. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Florida was in near-collapse, with the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country and unemployment that eventually reached double digits. Thoughtful people realized that their economy needed a better model for the long term. In the short term, it needed a big jolt. In 2008, these were hardly controversial views.

The reaction against Obama began almost immediately after the Inauguration. The Tampa Tea Party started up within a month. In 2010, it opposed a local initiative to raise the sales tax by one cent, in order to fund the construction of a commuter-rail system that would have ended the metropolitan area's status as the second largest in the country without one. Rail could have been Tampa's answer to sprawl and to the fragile boom-bust economy that came with it; the project would also have created sixteen thousand jobs over the next ten years. But the Tea Party equated the state-funded system with socialism, not to mention higher taxes, and in November the voters rejected it. On the same ballot, Floridians elected the Republican Rick Scott as their governor. One of his first moves was to slap away $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money intended for a new, high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando. So much for another twenty-two thousand jobs.

The state continued to languish. Officials and developers resumed the old song of less regulation, lower taxes, and more housing, as if those were not the very things that had brought on the recession. There is always a cycle of forgetting in the memory of painful events, but amnesia on this scale requires something more than the usual benign oblivion. It depends on a willful and calculated arrangement of deceptions and falsehoods. This brings us back to the Republican Convention.

If the Republican argument for firing Obama were to be broken down, it would consist of equal parts truth, omission, chutzpah, and lies. Unemployment remains high and the recovery has been sluggish at best, and that may well get the President defeated. But, the moment that Obama was sworn in, the Republicans united to thwart his every effort to stimulate demand and create jobs, in order to lay responsibility for the recession at his door. The Party's silence about its own obstruction can be heard in every pause of the campaign. The Republican answer to Obama's policies--deregulation, tax cuts, limited government--has been the conservative position for decades. …

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