Pork bellies, democracy futures and Obama’s metaphor
President Obama just visited my home state of Washington (August 17) to do the tried-and-true political thing: to help raise money in order to install and keep leaders of his Democratic Party in legislative positions – a constant reminder to all of us of how our “democracy futures” are traded…just like any other commodities in an exchange ruled by the buck, an electoral exchange in this case. This time the fundraising was for Senator Patty Murray who is up for reelection to a fourth senate term in November: a timid former schoolteacher and soccer mom with questionable leadership qualities, but less apt to cause harm to the commons (public-good) than her Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, a real estate peddler who fortunately was just a few votes shy six years ago from becoming governor of this state.
For the umpteenth time in the last four months, Obama has used in his fundraising events the metaphor, with variations to the theme, of how the Republicans drove a car (American economy) into a ditch (a major recession) during the two terms of the Bush administration (2001-2009); and how the Democrats, under his leadership, have pulled the car out of the muddy ditch via economic recovery policies without any support from those who got it stuck there, and who are now clamoring to get the keys back.
Our president is getting a lot of mileage out of that metaphor which he’s altered a bit at times to suit the occasion or the audience. But, unfortunately for us, he has it wrong – and such cutesy metaphor is likely to backfire in the next few weeks leading to the election. The Republicans were driving when the car slid into the trench of economic morass; Obama is quite correct there. It is the “salvage part” which is totally wishful thinking and nothing short of pretentious make-believe. The car is and will remain in the ditch, a trench that is beginning to look not just as a marker for a double-dip recession, but for a full blown depression; a pit of moving sands.
The economic problems confronting the US have hardly begun to surface, in great part due to the nation’s federal structure and shared accountability with the states, without anyone trying to put the puzzle together as a nation There is a hidden multi-trillion dollar mess which include shortfalls in public employee pensions, exorbitant amounts in deferred maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure, and coming calls in several types of government guarantees; plus unrecognized levels of ineffectiveness in education and health care which put Americans at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the residents of other first world countries. All in all, the need to make this nation economically whole might be approaching, even surpassing, the 25 trillion dollar mark…or close to 2 years of gross domestic product; and that is a problem that defies all innovative solutions. In the past, politicians and economists have avoided stepping out of their short-term world, and into the long-term. Now, the long-term has become short term; it’s knocking at the door.
It’s becoming obvious that the haves will soon be providing take-it-or-leave-it solutions that must be accepted by the have-nots; it’s either that, or the perennial class struggle will find its own resolution, perhaps drawing blood. Hopes for unrealistic economic growth and/or interminable borrowing now seem to be part of a reckless past. Neither appears as an option that would provide the United States with an economic bailout.
A more appropriate metaphor for an honest American politician might have been: how both Democrats and Republicans during the past three decades have driven a fragile passenger car (the American nation) as if it were an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) through desolate lands and into a swamp. And, as one might expect, it got stuck… not just because of a faulty wheel (the workings of our capitalist economy) but because there were three other defective wheels as well: our arrogance as a superpower; the influence and control which the military-industrial complex exercises over the White House; and a de-facto, if forced, acceptance in the United States of an unequal and unjust society with an ever widening economic gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Up to now, US governments have had the benefit of being able to enforce American capitalist economics on much of the world, but now the jig is up and poor Obama won’t have at his disposal, as past presidents did, of that magical alchemy which transmuted consumption into wealth. But that is a topic which requires an article of its own [soon].
Meantime, one might suggest that on economic issues the president tells Americans the unbleached truth… or, at the very least, stop making himself a fool with that metaphor.
© 2010 Ben Tanosborn
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