Indicating that its current pet issue (income inequality) will carry into its 2016 coverage, the New York Times on successive front pages hit a presidential prospect from each party from the left: liberal Democrat Hillary Clinton and Bobby Jindal, the conservative Republican governor of Louisiana.
Jindal, long in the mix of names for the Republican presidential race, found himself and his state's economy once again in the crosshairs of the New York Times on Saturday's front page in a long article by Campbell Robertson, "As Jindal’s G.O.P. Profile Grows, So Do Louisiana’s Budget Woes."
In recent weeks, the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has issued news releases about the “mindless naïveté” of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the folly of opening diplomatic relations with Cuba and the threat of radical Islam in Europe, prompting a flurry of commentary about what it all might mean to Republican voters in Iowa and South Carolina should Mr. Jindal decide, as has long been expected, to run for president.
But here in the Louisiana capital, there is mostly one topic on everyone’s mind these days, and it is quite distressingly close to home: the fiscal reckoning the state is facing for next year and perhaps for multiple budgets to come.
“Since I’ve been in Louisiana I’ve never seen a budget cycle as desperate as this one,” said Robert Travis Scott, the president of the Public Affairs Research Council, a nonpartisan group based in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana’s budget shortfall is projected to reach $1.6 billion next year and to remain in that ballpark for a while. The downturn in oil prices has undoubtedly worsened the problem, forcing midyear cuts to the current budget. But economists, policy experts and lawmakers of both parties, pointing out that next year’s projected shortfall was well over a billion dollars even when oil prices were riding high, turn to a different culprit: the fiscal policy pushed by the Jindal administration and backed by the State Legislature.
In a state the size of Louisiana, the shortfall is huge. But it is all the more daunting considering that the governor has unequivocally ruled out any plans for new revenue, bone-deep cuts have already been made to health care and higher education, ad hoc revenue sources have been all but drained and robust economic growth has yet to materialize.
Robertson set Jindal up as a target of his own party.
But a slower-than-ideal recovery is not unique to Louisiana. How the state has dealt with it is the root of the problem, said Mr. Jindal’s policy critics. That group includes some of his own party members running to replace Mr. Jindal, who is barred by term limits from seeking a third term as governor.
Blaming Jindal's conservative policies for a struggling economy in Louisiana is a recurring theme for the Times. A December 2008 article by Adam Nossiter, "For Louisiana, Bons Temps Proved All Too Brief," disrespectfully referred to Jindal as "the Republican Party's national pinup." (Would the Times dare call Obama "the Democratic Party's national pinup"?)
The Times manages to spotlight only the lean years in a state whose economy is tied more than most to the price of oil and other natural resources, and not trumpet the fat years that follow (Louisiana GDP outpaced the nationwide average overall in the 2008-2012 period), which helped get "pinup" Jindal re-elected in a 2011 landslide, 66%-18%.
On Sunday, it was Jindal's hypothetical Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton's turn on the front page, in an article by chief Hillary-follower Amy Chozick, under the headline "Economic Plan Is a Quandary for Clinton ’16 – How to Address Anger Over Wealth Gap." ("Anger" reliably stoked in front-page Times stories)
With advice from more than 200 policy experts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.
That was followed by urgings from various voices to do just that, including criticism of HRC for supporting her husband's signing of a politically popular and successful welfare reform bill, as well as his support of free trade agreements.
Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state when some major economic debates took hold on Capitol Hill, and as a result, her economic views are still not broadly known. Her approach to poverty was forged in the 1970s, when she went door to door while working for the Children’s Defense Fund, leaving her a committed advocate for early childhood education, equal pay for women and paid leave.
But later experiences complicated her worldview. Many of the advocates who knew Mrs. Clinton as a champion for the poor and working-class women felt betrayed in 1996 when, as first lady, she supported Mr. Clinton’s overhaul of the welfare system, which gave states more power to remove people from welfare rolls and pledged to cut federal spending on assistance for the poor by nearly $55 billion over six years. She was more skeptical about the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Mr. Clinton signed into law in 1993 and which has also been accused of hurting American workers.
“Where has the money gone?” asked Robert B. Reich, a secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. “That is the topic that is embarrassing for people to talk about, particularly in Washington, because even mentioning it creates the potential charge of class warfare.”
Mr. Reich, who recently sent Mrs. Clinton a five-page memo laying out his ideas, said candidates in both parties needed to abandon the politically safe discussion of upward mobility for the poor and middle class that dominated the 1990s, and instead take on the stickier issue of income distribution.
Last month in Washington, a 17-person commission convened by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to Mrs. Clinton, presented a 166-page report on “inclusive prosperity,” which is among the numerous economic blueprints Mrs. Clinton has reviewed. For some, the solutions proposed by the committee, of which Mr. Summers was co-chairman, did not go far enough.
Dean Baker, an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has pushed the idea of a government fee on the sale or purchase of certain financial assets, which he believes could hold Wall Street accountable while funding social services. “Clinton people didn’t want to go near it,” Mr. Baker said.
Chozick concluded with an Obama adviser's call for vengeance against undefined rich outlaws.
“Long-term answers about education and skills that help change mobility don’t get at the current frustrations and aggravations,” said Austan D. Goolsbee, an economic adviser to Mr. Obama and a professor at the University of Chicago.
“People want to answer the question, ‘Are we going to be O.K.?’ ” Mr. Goolsbee said. “And then the natural question is, ‘Whose fault was that, and let’s go find those people.’ ”