Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.
Robert Bentley makes me sick.
I’m speaking figuratively, at least for the moment. But given the way my stomach turns every time Alabama’s wretched excuse for a governor summons the gall to tout his credentials as a creator of jobs — and thus gives new life to the old riddle about how to tell when a politician is lying (answer: his mouth is moving) — I’m not at all certain that I’ll make it through Bentley’s campaign for re-election this November without at least one visit to my doctor.
Fortunately, should that become necessary, I have health insurance. That’s more than I can say for nearly 667,000 of my fellow Alabamians (about 14 percent of the state’s total population). These citizens have been victimized by Bentley’s steadfast refusal to expand Alabama’s Medicaid system and set up a state-run insurance exchange, both in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act. That the ACA is more popularly known as “Obamacare” tells you everything you need to know about why the governor, a Republican — and a doctor to boot — is willing to let thousands of his constituents suffer and die rather than change their lives with the stroke of a pen.
But I digress. I have written of Bentley’s tacit renunciation of his Hippocratic oath before, and am sure that I will again. Today, I want to take a few moments to examine his performance as a job creator. All facts and figures cited come from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a recent report to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.
In the 42 full months between Bentley’s inauguration in January 2011 and the end of July, Alabama has seen its private-sector employment increase in 28 of them. By way of comparison with other Southeastern states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — that ranks next-to-last, with only Arkansas lagging behind us; on average, even with Arkansas’ anemic 21 months of job growth, those states saw 33 months of growth.
Going back a little farther, the BLS report shows that from February 2010 — the national low point for private-sector employment in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and in all fairness to Bentley, 11 months before he took office — through July of this year, Alabama added 58,000 news jobs, an increase of 3.9 percent. How does this stack up against other states? Well, again, thank God for Arkansas, which matched Alabama’s 3.9 percent job-growth rate. Meanwhile, the average in the other states was 7.7 percent, ranging from 4.6 percent in Mississippi to Florida’s 11.6 percent.
And what of unemployment? Three years ago — July 2011, to be exact — Alabama’s unemployment rate was 8.7 percent. At that time, unemployment was higher in seven of the nine other Southeastern states — all but Arkansas and Louisiana — with an average rate among them of 9.6 percent.
In July of this year, unemployment in Alabama was down to 7.0 percent (by the way, that’s up two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month and 0.5 points from the same month a year ago). Five of the other nine states — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina — now have lower unemployment than ours, and the regional average stands at 6.7 percent.
More telling still, Alabama ranks dead last in the Southeast in that rate at which unemployment has declined over the past 36 months. The Southeastern average is 31.0 percent, with the rates of reduction ranging from 22.8 percent in Georgia to a whopping 45.7 percent in South Carolina. In Alabama, it’s 19.5 — the only state in the region in which unemployment has declined by less than 20 percent since mid-2011.
Yet Governor Bentley and his handlers are making his economic development prowess the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. Interestingly, his official website claims that Alabama has “the lowest unemployment rate in the south at 6.1 percent,” which is either a typo or a lie. And job creation is the centerpiece of a much-ballyhooed $500,000 advertising buy the Bentley campaign launched this week.
Four years ago, the national economy was draining hope from Alabama, the first television ad laments, in what I suppose passes among the Bentley brain trust as a nice shot at President Obama. The ad goes on to praise “the hard-working men and women of Alabama” and to feature the governor pledging to continue his fight to “restore hope and purpose to thousands of fellow citizens.” The tagline is, Governor Bentley: Working for Alabama.
That may be, but clearly Bentley is not working hard enough — either that, or he’s just not very good at it. I suppose we can take some comfort in the fact that we’re not paying him for it, in accordance with his famous pledge to refrain from taking a salary until Alabama reaches full employment (as defined by the federal standard of 5.2 percent).
Of course, another way to look at that is that the people of Alabama are getting from our governor pretty much exactly what we’re paying for. Dwell on that for moment, and see if you don’t feel a little sick as well — and ask yourself if you want to feel that way for four more years.