The Elections of 2012 – Politics vs Economics

by George Kennedy on September 21, 2011

 

The Elections of 2012 – Politics vs Economics

In an earlier post, I asked if Democrats are ready for the 2012 elections? I am not optimistic even though it is common knowledge that our elected leadership, most notably President Obama, ceded the field to the Republicans the past 30-months. We need to know what accounts for their inertia. It is now our turn; we have to become the outside force that propels them forward.

The elections of 2012 will be largely about the continued destruction of the middle class or a resurgence of hope and a renewed commitment to a more balanced and humane society. As a stark reminder of the imbalance, Americans should be aware that the misdeeds of Wall Street impoverished over 60 million as a result of the global recession. As a corollary to this fact, I would love to know how many living-wage jobs were created during the same period with so many slipping into poverty. I suspect we will never know.

Americans will have to steel themselves for the grueling and contentious campaign ahead. I see two stark choices. Conservatives and the Republicans will present no viable economic or job creation plan but rather will wage a fierce political campaign around simplistic, bumper-sticker economic themes: “Job killing regulations”, “don’t tax the job creators”, “too much market uncertainty to raise taxes”, and “the stimulus did not create one job!” They will insist dogmatically that more austerity measures and debt reduction must be the principal focus of government policy; that the preferred size of government is the smallest government possible – that is until they need it.

Moreover, they will assert passionately that a balanced budget amendment is essential to bring our national debt into balance. There is nothing there to create jobs in the short term, but this is Tea Party mantra. The voice of the moderate Republican has been silenced for fear of a primary challenge by the Tea Party. In the current climate, cooperation between the two parties becomes possible if the Republicans fear greater losses in 2012.

Democrats, however, will try to argue economics. They will explain the necessity for everyone to pay their fair share, for more government stimulus, more revenue measures, creating incentives for employers to hire new workers, ending corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, effective regulations to curb corporate and Wall Street excesses, and greater consumer protections. Republicans, dutifully, will hew to simplistic, but false talking points designed to instill fear, doubt, more cynicism, even loathing for any Democrat seeking public office. There will be no semblance of accountability for the laissez faire policies that plunged this country into recession.

Democrats will use the political process and the campaign trail to call for structural reforms that benefit workers and the middle class. In protest, Republicans will scream “class warfare.” A consequence of the Republican war on the middle class is “one in six Americans now live in poverty”: the highest number ever reported by the US Census Bureau in a recently released survey. The report also “showed that real median household incomes dropped 2.3% in 2010 from the year before, reflecting the decline of the middle class. At the same time, the richest 20% of the US population now controls 84% of the wealth. In fact, so staggeringly unbalanced has America become that the richest 400 American families have the same net worth as the bottom 50% of the nation.” This outcome is not class warfare according to the Republicans. They would argue this is market forces at play. We should not expect balanced media coverage from a corporate media that is less liberal than conservatives would have you believe.

Republicans will argue vociferously that an outsized defense budget is sacrosanct to deter threats in a volatile world. Democrats will call for more rationalization in defense and other government contracting to reduce waste, a drastically reduced dependence on no-bid contracts, and more accountability in project management. I single out the defense budget because it is huge, a sacred cow to Republicans, and a likely source for new revenue. For Republicans like Eric Cantor (R-Va.), our national security requires that we allocate funds to build schools in Iraq, for example, but not in the U.S.

Republicans will also continue to erect structural barriers to voting in 2012. The economic consequences of a reduced Democratic turnout are huge and predictable: the likelihood of four years of economic policies that were disproved over 25 years ago.

If there is a time when the American voter should act out of enlightened self-interest, it is now. Is this a time for American First”? At least temporarily, I would argue. No, I am not an isolationist; my earlier career belies this notion. But, I do advocate a reduced military response whenever a radical group is the subject of a press interview.

This election, more than any in the recent past, voters will have to strap in and ask hard questions, demand answers and then decide the future they want, and if that future attaches value to justice, equality, fairness, compassion, and democratic principles. We have reached a watershed moment in history and the impact of a bad decision will reverberate throughout this country and the world for decades into the future.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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