21 February 2011

Obama's Decision Time

This piece in the NYT portrays events in Wisconsin as posing a dilemma for Pres. Obama. To me, the choice could hardly be clearer, but, all right, it's decision time. The president needs to decide right now to side with his base supporters, once and for all, and forget about any compromise on budget cuts with the Republicans. They will not be compromising anyway. Time to make them do some capitulating, when the people make their choices clear, with the help, finally, of some real presidential leadership. 

Look, Mr, President. You have been getting some really lousy economic advice. Going along with the Republicans on draconian, job-destroying budget cuts to so-called non-defense discretionary spending is a recipe for total disaster. It doesn't square with your "grow the future" meme anyway, so it's time to shift tack in a major way.

Instead, promise to protect social security against all attacks, and refuse to go along with budget cuts that would require massive layoffs. Propose efficiencies, such as stronger control of rising medical costs, and review and reduction of overseas military expenditures (especially longer term). Go on TV and explain how we are facing a crisis that isn't just about debt, but about the need to restore our economy to productivity and independence. Emphasize that meme, energy independence, independence from foreign manufactures. Another meme should be building full employment. Convene an emergency commission of progressive economists to develop an investment plan "to put 22 million people back to work." Then go on TV and present it, ask the people for their support for it... ask them to make Congress do it. 

The other unavoidable, is revenue side. Again, go on TV, and explain to the people. It's like a small business just starting out. You can't afford to be too timid about taking on debt or risk... you have to make the investments. In our case, it's in a completely new, totally renewable energy grid, transportation system (massive investment in high speed rail, solar power plants, wind, new electrical distribution, roads, highways, bridge reconstruction, new biofuels pilot plants, etc.)... for jobs, as well as to get a renewed production economy going. Again, present the plan and ask the people to support it. Tell them you can't do it without their support, but if we don't do it, their kids won't have the opportunities they've had, etc. etc. 

But to accomplish this, it will be like World War II. First, propose a major program of recovery bonds. These should pay just enough interest to be attractive investments for working people, which right now, isn't that much. Major campaigns to sell them, like War Bonds during WWII, should be rolled out. Sure it's adding to the debt, but it's debt to ourselves, to build our future. This may be more symbolic than substantive, but it can't hurt, and will generate the right kind of pulling together as a people to "get the job done." We need a whole new set of political tropes, geared towards jobs, recovery, growth, opportunity, etc.

But higher taxes will also be necessary. We have to ask for more from our people, especially our wealthiest, and from the profits of the Financial and Energy sectors in particular. Comprehensive tax reform needs to be rolled out, with cuts in taxes for the lowest incomes, modest sacrifices starting in the upper middle class ("shared sacrifice" on the revenue side, not cuts in spending), and significant increases for the wealthier segments, with large rate hikes for the top 2%. This is a MAJOR shift in thinking, yes, but, can't you see, Mr. President, it's time? You have to lead. You have to present the reasons why this is necessary. Why our country needs us to pay more to rebuild its systems and ensure its economic security in the future, just as we did during the cold war with regard to its physical security. Major communication and leadership initiatives on your part are the only way. Sure it will take time, but just being Mr. Compromise with the naysaying Republicans is not going to accomplish anything other than continued decline and defeat. 

To those who argue "Pie in the Sky! Don't you get it? The Tea Party won!"... I say, they won (barely, and mainly due to nonparticipation of half the electorate) the last election... but that makes now the worst possible time to give in to them. We must challenge them on core principles. We must win the hearts and souls of the people to a completely different plan to ensure recovery and eventual fiscal health. We have to fight the long battle. Of course, it will be next to impossible to get much of this done in the next two years, but we need to start now to convince the people that we, as Democrats (because most of the Democratic party is truly hungry for bold leadership and will join you) have a real plan, a much better plan, to restore America's economic might and prosperity. 

The world is changing. The reality is that there were 8 terrorist deaths among Americans in 2010, but 29 people died from lightning strikes. We can't be seen as "soft" on terrorism, but careful emphasis on domestic economic restoration, while gradually dismantling our overseas military spending, will do a huge amount to help lower the deficits. This need not be emphasized, until it's starting to show results. Of course, no one can predict the future, but there's every reason to believe that the next ten years will be better served by an America that is more focused on regrowing its own economy and leading the way to a renewable energy, post-oil future, than continuing current paradigms. Let the whole global war on terror meme just fade away, and, with any luck at all, it will. We may have to change course based on unexpected events, but we would anyway, and if we've focused on strengthening our domestic economy, we will be better not less able to meet unexpected challenges that may arise down the road.

More later. I will be presenting a proposed draft "Two Futures" speech I would dearly love to hear our President deliver as soon as possible.

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