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The agendas could not be more conflicting, the choice more starkly radical. “We’ve got two very different visions of our future,” said President Obama, stumping recently in Boca Raton, Florida, “and the difference could not be greater.”
His vision of our future was squashed in 2010, as depicted by the triumphant elephant that illustrated a gloating article in Bearing Drift. Voters turned to the elephant in hopes that it would improve their lives and their futures but, alas, they shot themselves in the foot. That is not at all what the elephant has in mind. The elephant has since obstructed all efforts to improve their lives, blocking financial reforms and economic growth, waiting for the time to arrive that it could blame the donkey for all of our woes.
Now voters, right on schedule, are pondering whether that flattened donkey, in its trampled condition, has been doing enough for them. As a NewYork Times/CBS News poll points out, most voters are understandably worried about the economy:
Even as the nation rebounds from the recession, its lingering effects are reflected in the adversities facing families. Nearly two-thirds of people are concerned about paying for their housing, the poll found, and one in five people with mortgages say they are underwater.
Four in 10 parents say they have had to alter expectations for the type of college they can afford for their children. And more than one-third of respondents said high gas prices had created serious financial hardships.
It must be the donkey’s fault, right? The donkey has, after all, been in charge. There’s a time-proven tendency to blame the sitting president:
“We need a president who has a business background, and Mitt Romney’s business background is tremendous,” Michael Larson, 55, a salesman and independent voter from Minneapolis, said Wednesday. . . “He has a vision that will bring the country back to economic strength.”
Ignorance is bliss, but this time the ignorance runs alarmingly deep: As his recently released budget proposal reveals, Romney’s “vision” consists of doubling down on the policies that caused the current economic crisis: lower taxes for the rich; reduced government stimulus; and a deeper depression-bound recession for everyone else.
But voters who don’t understand any of this will react viscerally, as they did in 2010. Unhappy with the way things are, they will thoughtlessly expect the other guy to fix things, just because he says he will. Unfortunately, this time there is little remaining margin for error. This time they will be shooting themselves in the head: In 2016, it likely will be far too late to turn away from Romney, in audacious hopefulness, to someone else.
Obama is running well ahead of Romney with female, black and Latino voters, and it should be unimaginable that an organization serving the interests of the top 1%, having thoroughly alienated women and minorities with a repressive social agenda while brazenly advancing plans to increase the wealth of its 1% clients and further plunder the dwindling prosperity of everybody else, might still attract enough votes from its victims (the entire bottom 99%) to gain permission to run the country. In a functional democracy, armed with the knowledge that the elephant has none of their interests at heart, the 99% would turn the elephant away in a landslide.
Ironically, the elephant itself is becoming increasingly concerned that democracy just might be functional enough to cost it the election. The elephant worries that its focus on social issues at the state level just might spoil its Reaganomics con game. “The recent flurry of socially conservative legislation, on issues ranging from expanding gun rights to placing new restrictions on abortion,” says Michael Cooper of the New York Times, “comes as Republicans at the national level are eager to refocus attention on economic issues.”
Eager, indeed. People in great numbers have been buying the elephant’s snake oil for thirty years — with a vengeance in 2010 — and seem poised to buy more, even with their dwindling purse of nickels and dimes. The elephant has been confident and arrogant, and until recently it has not appeared to feel capable of overreaching.
It’s disquieting to listen to Chris Matthews discuss the prospects for November, announcing that if the unemployment rate is 8% or lower, Obama will win, but if it goes back up over 9%, Romney will win. Is that it? Really? Matthews doesn’t say so, but such a mindless calculus reveals the extreme dysfunctionality of American democracy, and the depth of voter ignorance. By using this barometer, Matthews himself implies it just might be a rational basis for selecting a president.
He should keep opinions like that to himself. By inviting voters to concentrate on the unemployment rate as an indication of presidential effectiveness, he invites voters to ignore the Crash of 2008 and the lingering crisis the Bush administration’s policies handed to Obama on arrival. Voters are invited to overlook the intense opposition to economic recovery the elephant has waged ever since, eagerly awaiting this moment when it could trample all over the donkey once again.
As FOX News daily blames Obama for the massive federal debt, voters are invited to ignore that $15 trillion of it is Republican debt, and that the elephant’s false, new-found concern for balancing the budget isn’t great enough for it to consider taxing its clients, the rich: No, the rest of us must pay off all that debt — raised to enrich the top 1% — ostensibly for our own good. Voters are invited to overlook the Romney plan to reduce the taxes of the rich and corporations even more, while increasing military spending beyond levels requested by the military itself, requiring all of us to pay for both while the federal debt continues to climb. Just focus on the unemployment rate, voters, and pretend once again that wealth trickles down.
We need to be afraid, because this elephantine nonsense just might prevail again. In recent blog posts, one of America’s top economic spokesmen for the 99%, Robert Reich, is showing signs of growing alarm. In Whose Recovery? Many Remain in Critical Condition (4/1/12), he discussed how lopsided the recent “recovery” has been. “The top 1 percent got 45 percent of Clinton-era economic growth, and 65 percent of the economic growth during the Bush era,” he noted, but “according to an analysis of tax returns by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Pikkety, the top 1 percent pocketed 93 percent of the gains in 2010. 37 percent of the gains went to the top one-tenth of one percent. No one below the richest 10 percent saw any gain at all”:
Official Washington doesn’t want to talk about this lopsided recovery. The Obama administration is touting the recovery, period, without mentioning how narrow it is.
Republicans would rather not talk about widening inequality to begin with. The reverse-Robin Hood budget plan just announced by Paul Ryan and House Republicans (and endorsed by Mitt Romney) would make the lopsidedness far worse – dramatically cutting taxes on the rich and slashing public services everyone else depends on.
Fed Chief Ben Bernanke – who doesn’t have to face voters on Election Day – says the U.S. economy needs to grow faster if it’s to produce enough jobs to bring down unemployment. But he leaves out the critical point.
We can’t possibly grow faster if the vast majority of Americans, who are still losing ground, don’t have the money to buy more of the things American workers produce. There’s no way spending by the richest 10 percent – the only ones gaining ground – will be enough to get the economy out of first gear.
Ominously, the economy is stuck, just when jobs and incomes in the bottom 99% must be boosted and more government spending is required to do it. In Why the Buffett Rule Sets the Bar Too Low (4/11/12), Reich pointed out that the top 1% is taking in more than 20% of all national income, and paying the lowest tax rate since 1980, while the United States faces huge federal budget and infrastructure investment deficits:
Any serious person looking at these three realities would conclude that the rich should be paying far more. * * * [G]iven these realities, the Buffett Rule sets the bar too low. For most Americans, wages and benefits are declining (adjusted for inflation), net worth has been plummeting (their only asset is their homes), and the public services they rely on have been disappearing. For the top, it’s just the opposite: Their incomes are rising, their stock-market portfolios have been growing, and a growing portion of their earnings has been subject to a capital-gains tax of just 15 percent.
And in Why “We’re on the Right Track” Isn’t Enough (4/19/12), he is critical of President Obama’s campaign strategy in these circumstances:
President Obama’s electoral strategy can best be summed up as: “We’re on the right track, my economic policies are working, we still have a long way to go but stick with me and you’ll be fine.”
That’s not good enough. This recovery is too anemic, and the chance of an economic stall between now and Election Day is far too high. Even now, Mitt Romney’s empty “I’ll do it better” refrain is attracting as many voters as Obama’s “we’re on the right track.”
The donkey has allowed itself to take ownership of a worsening economic situation that rightfully belongs to the elephant. As Reich urges, Obama should make it clear that the underlying problem is the growing inequality, and ask the American people for a mandate to make the economy work for everyone, not just the few at the top; he should refuse to make more budget cuts until unemployment is down to 5%; and “he should remind voters that congressional Republicans prevented him from doing all that was needed in the first term, and they must not be allowed to do so again.”
This is only common sense: Obama erred for more than two years by taking a conciliatory approach with Republicans. Unfortunately, in doing so, he afforded trickle-down Reaganomics too much credibility, long after it should have been dead and buried. Now the donkey lies pinned beneath five tons of cocky elephant, struggling to wriggle free.
So be afraid. Be very afraid. Come election day, voters may not look beyond the unemployment rate, and if not this time they might turn once again to the elephant, and they will lose everything. Those of us in the bottom 99% who are not fooled by the elephant will pay the same heavy price as everyone else. We’ll all be headed into Great Depression #2, and we’ll struggle into that unthinkable future knowing that there’s something very dangerous in the Kool Aid, something that, when the chips are down, renders democracy completely impotent and dysfunctional.
JMH – 4/23/12
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