Angus King: The Democrats Beat Themselves

Angus King H’07, a distinguished lecturer at the College since 2004, is a regular contributor to the Bowdoin Daily Sun. In his latest post, the former two-term governor of Maine says last week’s election losses by Democrats might have been avoided if the White House had just shouted out its successes.

In looking over my first three Bowdoin Daily Sun posts, there seems to be a pattern developing wherein a quote from my dad becomes the text for the ruminations that follow. Today, however, my source is different—one Ellen King, schoolteacher, community volunteer, and mom (mine). It seems somewhat uncharacteristic, but I can swear I remember her saying (on more than one occasion), “If you’re going to do a good deed, be sure people know about it.” Would that Barack Obama’s mother had said something similar to him, because the political debacle of last week could have been prevented had the President (and his Democratic mates) effectively and repeatedly told the real story of the last two years.

To illustrate my point, we’ll have a quiz. No peeking until you’ve made a good faith effort to come up with your own answers. Here goes:

1.) Name the automaker (of all those in the world) for which U.S. sales increased the most in the last twelve months. Now name the second biggest “increaser” and the company that produces both brands.

2.) Name the automobile manufacturer with the second-highest total U.S. sales in the last year, just behind Ford and ahead of Toyota.

3.) Name the automaker that came within an inch of going out of business less than two years ago but was saved by federal intervention led by Barack Obama.

4.) Identify on the following graph the bar for the month when Barack Obama was sworn in as POTUS:

5.) What is the significance of this number: 20 million?

6.) (Trick question) How much have Barack Obama and the Democrats raised taxes?

7.) What was the largest single component of the “Dreaded Stimulus Package” (DSP)?

8.) If you had invested $100,000 in the stock market on the day Barack Obama was sworn in, what would it be worth today?

9.) How many U.S. troops were in Iraq the day Barack Obama was sworn in, and how many are there today?

10.) What percentage of personal income was total federal, state, and local taxes in 2009? Where did this level of taxation rank in terms of the last 60 years?


OK, here are the answers:

1.) Name the automaker (of all those in the world) for which U.S. sales increased the most in the last twelve months. Now name the second biggest “increaser” and the company that produces both brands. Buick, followed closely by Cadillac, had the greatest sales increase over the past twelve months; both are manufactured by General Motors. Number four was GMC.

2.) Name the automobile manufacturer with the second-highest total U.S. sales in the last year, just behind Ford and ahead of Toyota. General Motors is the second leading manufacturer over the past year, just behind Ford.

3.) Name the automaker that came within an inch of going out of business less than two years ago but was saved by federal intervention led by Barack Obama. General Motors, again. Had it not been for the President’s intervention (read bailout), the company would be gone now and about a million extra people would be out of work.

4.) Identify on the following graph the bar for the month when Barack Obama was sworn in as POTUS:

That’s right, it’s the longest bar, representing 750,000 jobs lost that month. As you can see, the jobs picture has been steadily improving ever since and we’ve been in plus territory for the past eight months. Last month, for example, saw an increase of 151,000 jobs. Bonus fact: number of net new jobs created during the eight years of the (anti-business) Clinton administration: 23 million; number of net new jobs created during the eight years of the (pro-business) Bush administration: 3 million.

5.) What is the significance of this number: 20 million? Twenty million is the number of 21 to 26 year-olds that are now eligible to be kept on their parents’ health insurance plan by virtue of “Obamacare.” Many would have been without coverage prior to the passage of the healthcare bill last ear.

6.) (Trick question) How much have Barack Obama and the Democrats raised taxes? Obama tax increases: zero. (Coincidentally, the same number as Obama gun-control initiatives).

7.) What was the largest single component of the “Dreaded Stimulus Package” (DSP)? The biggest middle class tax cut in U.S. history was the largest single component of the DSP, accounting for $300 billion of the $800 billion total. If you didn’t realize this, don’t feel bad; a recent poll revealed that only 8% of the American public knew that the DSP contained any tax cuts at all. Whose fault is that?

8.) If you had invested $100,000 in the stock market on the day Barack Obama was sworn in, what would it be worth today? One hundred thousand dollars invested in a fund based upon the Dow on January 20, 2009, is worth $180,000 today. Bonus fact: $100,000 invested the day George W. Bush took office was worth $65,000 eight years later.

9.) How many U.S. troops were in Iraq the day Barack Obama was sworn in, and how many are there today? Troops in Iraq in January, 2009: 150,000. Troops in Iraq today: 45,000.

10.) What percentage of personal income was total federal, state, and local taxes in 2009? Where did this level of taxation rank in terms of the last 60 years? Total federal, state, and local taxes represented 9.2% of personal income in 2009, the lowest level since 1950.

If you’re like me, most of this information is surprising and some of it is amazing.

And that’s my point.

Basically, the President was subjected to a two-year, non-stop “Swift Boating” and never really fought back. On healthcare, for example, he spent the entire summer of 2009 and most of the fall letting Fox News, talk radio, and the likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman define him and his proposals. On the economy, he never made the case of how bad things were and what progress has been made.

Sure, President Obama made all these points at one time or another in speeches or during his Saturday morning radio address (did you know there was such a thing? What station is it on?), or the occasional press conference (why does a guy who’s so smart and articulate have so few press conferences?). But in order to really get through to people, you have to follow the country preacher rule I teach my students: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; tell ‘em; then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” In other words, repeat the message over and over until it seeps into the public consciousness. And then repeat it about a hundred more times.

I think Barack Obama should have had that jobs graph tattooed on his forehead, for example, or least posted it on the front of the podium every time he spoke.

Ya think Rush Limbaugh never repeats himself? Have you ever seen the same or similar stories bashing Obama on Fox News? How about ten times a day every day? William James once said, “There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough.” Lenin put it a little more bluntly: “A lie told often enough becomes truth.” Death panels and Obama-raised-your-taxes spring to mind—and the fact that they spring to mind so easily makes my point.

I’m not faulting the President for what he’s done or not done, but rather for letting his opponents define the narrative of his first two years without seriously telling his side. I don’t believe the public necessarily repudiated the President or his policies last week; I think they repudiated a cartoon version of what he has or hasn’t done and he let it happen. Americans like their leaders tough and scrappy (think Gary Cooper in “High Noon” or Jason Bourne). And they like Indiana Jones a lot better in the crushed fedora with a whip in his hand than as the mild-mannered professor.

It’s too late now, but I wish the president had read The Killer Angels last summer. He would have learned that when Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were on top of that hill and about to be overwhelmed, they didn’t retreat or crouch behind the rocks or talk about bi-partisanship.

They charged.


  1. Peace right back to you Mr Bean.


    “I believe wholeheartedly that you and i are both extremely sensitive to anything that could be perceived as racist.”

    Sorry I can not return that belief. I assume you are desensitizing yourself to the obvious appeal to racism and other cultural pathologies inherent in the level of political power the Tea Party has now reached, its overall behavior and its overall rhetoric, because you are a little too wrapped up in the high of having more than a minscule number of people appearing to agree with you. If you are a libertarian or something of that nature, you dishonor your beliefs riding this wave as part of either the Tea Party or the Republican party.

  2. Progressive tax proponents talk of many many things. For instance, Adam Smith was a very chatty guy. Big book, he wrote.

    Government is government. It is not a private business. We aren’t discussing running a private business here. We aren’t discussing putting family budgets together on the dinner table. We are discussing running governments. Governments are different things than businesses and the nuclear family.

    I personally don’t have real strong feelings and I have limited knowledge on the subject. But counter-cyclic spending as a possible government tool is an active debate among smart and serious people. I see you appear to disagree that this tool should be allowed. But since you seemed to be confused about the basics – for instance, that you are discussing a private business when what you are really discussing is government – you will have to forgive me if I don’t take your word for it that this debate is completely over and already decided in the way you believe.

    My adult life experience is that it typically is the mindless tax-cut-in-good-times-and-bad partisan who only wants to talk about one thing.

    I didn’t mention my thoughts on cuts because we didn’t go that way in this conversation until now, but I will offer my thoughts.

    1) Reduce military expenditures by about 1/2 to 2/3

    2) Start releasing every non-violent drug offender now in jail, and scaling back non-violent drug crime policing.

    3) Reverse 6-7 decades of public expense and policy that promotes suburban patterns of living. A revolution in transportation spending is the primary government tool to use. Defunding the Interstate Highway system and cutting spending on similar sprawl-promoting transportation infrastructre would be part of that policy.

    Now I have low hope I will be sucessful in my fight getting these cuts. But here is something I promise you I will never do. I will never whine like a immature child because I have to pay taxes to support things I couldn’t get cut in the democratic process.

  3. Angus: You have reminded me why you were so successful as our best Governor the past century. Perhaps you should send your analysis to the President and he will digest it like everything else. File 13. Keep up your commentaries for us old but vitally interested folks in Maine.

  4. John Curtiss '74 says:

    No confusion here. Running deficits is bad policy whether you are a government or a business. Nothing good comes of it and if you have been watching Greece at all, you would understand the seriousness of the situation. It is hard for me to take anyone serious who doesn’t fundamentally understand the Tea Party’s very legitimate concerns with the state of the union and politics in general. Using the race card is really admitting that you haven’t attempted to understand the movement at all. I will admit, you have a lot of company on the left side of the ledger.

  5. You raise valid points John. Some people simply don’t understand that the Federal Government has become a giant blood sucking, republic killing, capitalist destroying machine. A good example is saying that by continuing the Bush tax cuts is going to “cost” 700 billion. That assumes it is the government’s money to begin with…IT ISN”T!!! Kenny doesn’t want to play that game because it is a losing proposition for him. There is a sweet spot for taxation where if you raise it the gov’t gets less and if you lower it the gov’t gets less. Art Laugher the economist created his famous “curve” spelling it out rather well. If liberals had their way, progressive taxation would never stop and it would reach 80-90% over a certain income level…where does it stop? You want to talk about destroying the American dream! Two of the most progressively taxed states in the country are California and New York…it’s true, look it up. How are they doing these days? Why is it that Texas is thriving….hmmmmm, let me see…

  6. Margaret Carleton says:

    How do we encourage — insist — that the “mainstream” media report positive events and/or report events in positive, or neutral, tones???

  7. Man oh man Kenny, you just don’t get it do you? I am a libertarian at heart and I believe the core principles of the Tea Party are well aligned with libertarian beliefs. You are so full of it with your racism crap. As I previouly wrote, there is WAY more inherent racism in the hitory of the democratic party and the “progressives” in general. Please don’t get me started on Margaret Sanger or Woodrow Wilson for example. Two of the worst racists in the history of this country! I bet you never read those two links I sent you, did you?

    By the way, as I am a libertarian at heart I will tell you this: I don’t disagree with you in principle that the military is too large, that the war on drugs is a ridiculous proposition, and eventually this country WILL return to a more localized agrarian society. But I also believe DHS is WAY too large, that the Dept. of Education should be abolished as should the Dept. of Agriculture. Have you ever thought how much money this country would save if we completely abolished the IRS? Think of how many man hours are spent each year in this country just to attempt to comply with a multi thousand page tax code…TRILLIONS. I think a flat tax with some simple tax credits at the lower end (to help make it less regressive) would, in the long run, save this country trillions.

  8. No reputable economist believes the US is anywhere close to the point on the ‘_Laffer_ Curve’ you describe, at this point in history.

    I know zero economists of any political bent, who want to go back to Eisenhower era marginal tax rates, even on just the 1/3 sliver of all tax receipts represented by income tax.

    Also, most economists believe the problem with super-high rates isn’t so much that they reduce incentives to work; it’s that they create huge incentives to avoid or evade.

  9. Anyone who can’t even see/admit-out-loud the obvious racism around us everywhere still, racism’s HUGE impact on our culture still, its obvious, insidious and close connection to the origins, rhetoric, behavior and thinking of the Tea Party, is a person who can’t address/won’t be addressing the important issue of racism… in others nor in themselves I suppose. I wouldn’t trust anybody that blind to the obvious, making important policy decisions.

    I would trust them a _little_ more if they admitted: “Sure the Tea Party is as strong as it is now because of the unmistakable strains of racism it has drawn to itself with pandering. I just plan to use that political power and keep it under control to get support for my point of view on this this and that thing… Things that could never have won close to a majority without pandering to racism. But I will keep these folks under control. Don’t worry.”

    I said trust a _little_ more because that shows at least a little more self awareness and cultural awareness. But I still don’t trust them enough, because they are tickling a dragon they can not control. It is too powerful a force in America still, especially when pandered to, rewarded, and extolled as virtue.

  10. Bruce Hunter says:

    Why is Texas thriving? It has nothing to do with tax policy and mostly to due with the price of oil which has been higher than $75 a barrel for the past 12 months, currently trading at $84.49. There are more producing wells in offshore Texas than any other state in the nation. Most of the major oil companies have their headquarters in Texas.

  11. John Curtiss '74 says:

    Ken: Honestly…get a grip. Why do you insist on making Tea Party=Racism? IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RACISM. Move on for goodness sakes. Do racists still exist? Sure they do. Are there perhaps some in the Tea Party movement? I suppose so. Are you trying (unsuccessfully) to try to undermine the movement by continuing with this nonsense? Sure you are. But anyone who can identify with the Tea Party principles in any serious way realizes what you refuse to…it has everything to do with limited gov’t and nothing to do with racism. Convenient for you to push this myth given our President is a black man, but a far cry from reality. You CHOOSE to see it this way because it makes it easier for your to dismiss the groundswell. Open your eyes and listen to what the key leaders are saying.

  12. I grew up living the Mt Laurel Decision in NJ. The leaders on the suburban whites side often said it was all about zoning. But even as a 10 years old I already had a ‘grip’, at least a handhold on a few more things than just an Olympian case of Denial.

  13. Ken,

    Again you fail to address what John and I are saying. It is senseless to debate with you. I am done.

  14. John Curtiss '74 says:

    Wow! I’m with Tom. I enjoy debates with intelligent people who offer a different point of view. It usually opens my eyes as many comments here have. No where to go from here with you I’m afraid Ken.

  15. I looked back. I addressed each of your points.

    My silence on your idea of abolishing the Department of Education and Agriculture should be taken as a resounding GONG! of ambivalence. Small potatos. No big deal. If these things need fixing/revamping, I want grown-ups sent in to do the work, encouraged to do that fixing by other grown-up… with all the grown-ups involved having proper level of respect for fact we live in a democracy. In general, I tend not to include the Ayn-Rand-quoting-as-if-it-is-real-world-technical-policy-guidance=ABOLISH!-chanting folks in with the grown-ups.

    My primary opinion when I see somebody get really really worked up on these things? It’s just another version of full-of-sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing except pandering and scapegoating of weak – “Look out for those ‘looters’ and ‘moochers.’ They are everywhere! They are going to sink this country!”

    The idea of abolishing the IRS is immaturity. No matter what happens to the tax code, there will be an IRS or something like it.

  16. tim ferrell says:

    Since when is Angus King worth listening to? He only ran independent so no one would know for sure how far left he is. The silver lining? The closet leftists are coming out. Keep talking buddy – you are showing the majority of Americans how politically tone deaf you are, and how bankrupt of ideas that work.

  17. richard Begin says:

    Again well written, thought out piece of Currrent Political observation, from a Guy who was perfectly positioned for a decade . Remember Angus is now an adjunct Professor. At least I hope I am accurate in that description. So be prepared to expect a Schorlarly application to this explaination. I agree with what he has written here.However I would be so Bold to suggesst that President Obama could ery well turn things around by 2012’recall upon George W Bush winning reeledtion in Ohio and being returned to the Whithouse for a second term I recall he said hewas prepared to spend some of his Political Capital, well he spent it at the wrong Store.

    I would cauton my GOP friends and tea party activists much can change on a Dime. before you know it Obama gets his second wind and it’s a new game. Talk about your Entertainment, and Finally I noticed some Posters speakign in a disrespectful manner about Angus’ until you have walked in his Shoes don’t be so dismissive Mr Ferrell. I also thank Don Nicholson for his nice comments.

    for one was there during the Ice Storm when The Governor was every where but Home.I simply don’t understand what motivates some posters to get off track it is so very ‘Pedestrian.Richard F begin

  18. Jane Gildart '81 says:

    I have to hand it to Angus King, he is a master at choosing facts, removing them from the context that gives them meaning, and using them to persuade potential followers of a conclusion that may or may not survive closer analysis.
    This is indeed the secret to successful political marketing.
    I’m just not sure it’s the secret to good governing.

  19. Norton Webber says:

    GM would have been just fine going bankrupt, AND THE BONDHOLDERS WOULD BE A LOT HAPPIER! A their assets would have been in place, they could have reorganized and gone on from there. Wonder what this TSA thing is about? What if the airlines all of a sudden need big time help because lots of people stop flying? Think that is far fetched with this bunch of facists we have in DC. Yes, facists are known for partially nationalizing private industry-not all of it mind you, just parts.

    Ak, most of those jobs you note were “created” by the admin were gummint jobs, and good ones. BTW, gummint jobs are of no value in a free market, they produce nothing.

    So, there is no inflation! You know too well, the fed just keeps moving the goal post. Remember what Greenspan spilled, in the list of things counted, once steak got too expensive and was an inflation driver, just let them eat hamburg. Voila’ inflation nullified.

    What I do not remember about your stint, is I do not remember. Now Longley, there was an independent. I was too busy running businesses and employing producers. You know, buying wholesale and selling at a profit. Enough said.

  20. martha hulbert says:

    Mr. King,
    Your understanding, please, of why Mr. Obama and related minions neglected to repeat and repeat again the gains made in the last two years. Why do you think there was such reticence to “charge” the media, he who campaigned so brilliantly? I’ve imagined it was in deference to the very real suffering of Americans out of work and/or foreclosed on their homes? How do you explain it?

  21. Fred Van Bennekom says:

    If a student of mine handed in this article as a paper, it would be handed back with “SOURCES!!” red penned in the margins. What is the source of the chart? It is most likely BLS data, but by not providing attribution, the implication is that Distinguished Lecturer King produced the chart. Yet, it was likley “borrowed” from the GovMonitor website. I could not find the exact chart for August 2010, but this link shows an identically formatted chart for September 2010:

    What is the source of the chart?

  22. Ken Clarke says:

    Though the debate here has become tiresome and somewhat dispiriting, the following link leads to a graph that provides a different, though I believe more accurate, assessment of our situation as opposed to the rather misleading graph Gov. King proposed for us. Of course, this month’s (non-farm) private payroll data also suggest the underlying reality differs from what Gov. King would have the voter’s believe.

  23. Pat Layton says:

    Gus, Gus, Gus – this is your old pal from Senior Govt. class – If Barack is so articulate, why does he HAVE to use the teleprompters. He is boring and uhhhing without them. Rush and Sarah etc. did not define him – the idiots behind the speeches defined him. Puppet? Do ya think? I listened in Government class too. lyl

  24. David Bertoni says:

    Racism is all around us, and it is quite prevalent in Maine. I’ve lived in cities big and small over the last 40 plus years, from a low income neighborhood in New Haven to Georgetown in DC, and have never heard as people use the “n” word as I have here. And this was before the influx of African immigrants which triggered a shockingly ignorant and loud response from many, including an elected mayor. But, the invocation of “racism” in connection with the Tea Party movement is political terror tactic, an attempt to fraudulently conflate libertarian and economic principles with bigotry. Are there hateful people who identify with the Tea Party. Certainly, just like hateful people — Jeremiah Wright to name an obvious example — identify with the Democratic Party and liberalism in general. But, the effort to drown sound economic and policy arguments in a lake of race-baiting rhetoric the lowest kind of tactic. While propaganda may have compromised your ability to see it, it creates a gigantic obstacle to the principled discussions that need to happen about the size of government, where government appropriate acts, taxation levels, and individual freedom and self-responsibility.

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