Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama's Cultural Duty

This is the primary economic and political fantasy that Americans love, that we can far outpace the rest of the world in military spending while borrowing for anything we want, while still meeting domestic obligations.

This seems like it should have been an episode in the 1950s TV show I Love Lucy. Imagine her not balancing her checkbook and draining the bank account. Ricky confronts her, "Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do!"

As a group, we voters do like to delude ourselves. It was a lot of years ago (1928) when Al Smith was the Democratic Presidential candidate. He said, "The American people never carry an umbrella. They prepare to walk in the eternal sunshine."

The huge 1984 win for Ronald Reagan — 525 electoral votes and 58.5% of the popular tally — spoke loudly for that befuddled version of hope. Borrow, borrow, borrow...spend, spend, spend... Then somehow, through trickle down economics, an endless growth spiral, and unlimited natural resources in the rest of the world, all will be swell. Smile, Ronnie, Smile.

Is the lotus-flower attraction of that wispy fantasy so enticing that we'll breath it deeply in four or even two years? The idea that Lucy or the nation can write infinite checks and stay solvent has recurred at least since Reagan.

For all its shortcomings, the Clinton years saw a return to fiscal responsibility that balanced the budget. Yet, as soon as the Republicans returned to power, the waft of the lotus put us to sleep again — following promises not to raise taxes, the wildly mis-titled fiscally conservative GOP borrowed to spend trillions of dollars that did not create jobs or wealth for the public. This was no NRA or WPA.

Despite the consistent and incontrovertible evidence that trickle-down economics and tax cuts for the wealthy don't, won't and can't work, Americans like the fantasy. So what will they do with even a tiny bit of sunshine?

Assume as I do that an Obama administration and a chastened and desperate Congress will redirect our economy successfully, at least starting in the right direction. Then, how strong is the drug of irresponsibility after these disasters? Will American voters fall back into an economic and political stupor?

Clearly, even a well-supported Obama cannot undo the damage in one or two terms. Given that, his secondary goal should be to create the structure to guide the next decade or two or more of Presidents and Congresses. It has been so painful as well as dull-witted to pretend that we can live like Bohemian students with rich parents, at play so long as there is a trust fund.

Look at any map of the electoral votes for President to see the sad implication of demography. It is really a tale of cities v. sticks. The most rural and the poorest, who like to call themselves the real Americans, the heartland and the salt of the earth, stuck with the fantasy. Those on farms and in factories, along with the working poor outside urban areas, are most harmed by the lotus spell that has so shifted real and absolute income upward. Still, they wanted to dream some more.

Yet the popular-vote spread was surprisingly high. At 6% down, McCain wasn't close. Obama's margin was the third highest of modern times, following the first Bush's 8% and the huge Reagan 18% in 1984. This time at least, Americans in toto (lotus reference intended) could not find the ray of sunshine in the failed Republican schemes.

As the Obama White House does not have a Department of Reality, the Democratic Party should create its equivalent immediately. In the next mid-term and following Presidential elections and those afterward, the wisdom and will of the nation will have crucial tests. If we forget the brutal lessons that enabled the Obama victory, I fear for the country even more than recently.

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Bill Baar said...

Defense spending at 4% of GDP. I remember when it was closer to 10%.

If your going to be a deficit Hawk your going to have to look at entitlements to save money.

I'm not a deficit Hawk myself... deficits, a little inflation, and lose money are still ok in my book despite the fin smash up...

massmarrier said...

Well, there are deficits and deficits. Note that I contrast the purpose. We expect now that such will create jobs and expand technologies, not piss money away in ill-conceived wars and indefensible tax cuts for corporations and the richest. Obama has already promised deficits, but not debt for the haves.