ENOUGH WITH TRICKLE DOWN. ENOUGH WITH KID GLOVES.
Do you recall how inspiring this year’s inauguration was? Do you remember how much America fell in love not only with Barack Obama but his entire family? The affection seemed to be coming from all sides – left and right, black and white, red and blue. Millions stood for hours in freezing weather. Hundreds of millions seemed to accompany them in spirit. It appeared that everyone in America had pledged as their patriotic duty a robust commitment to tackle the problems that Barack had discussed during the campaign.
That was 60 days ago, a mere two months. And now look at what Barack is facing. Last night on Jay Leno, he said that Washington was like American Idol, except that everyone is Simon Cowell. Sounds about right, until you realize that Cowell occasionally raves about a performance. Who is sticking up for Barack? Certainly not the leading Republicans. The last one Barack attempted to nominate for a Cabinet position, Senator Judd Gregg, turned tail after saying in private that he would take the job. Rush Limbaugh, arguably the spiritual leader of the GOP, publicly announced that he’d like to see Barack “fail.” And now, Mitt Romney, likely the Republican candidate in 2012, has cited Barack for his inexperience, “learning on the fly,” and lack of focus. Hell, Romney even bashed Barack for appearing on Jay Leno, where he was able to communicate directly and clearly to the American public. Apparently, in the post-Cheney era of government, that TV appearance was a huge faux pas. Better to sequester yourself in a bunker and plot nefarious thoughts. Perhaps Romney and I share a love for James Bond, only I prefer Bond and Romney prefers Blofeld.
Of course, it’s one thing for the GOP to be attacking Barack, but I don’t hear him getting much love from the Dems either. In fact, I’m not quite sure what the Dems are thinking these days. We know that they supported the stimulus bill (thank God), but do they support additional bailouts of the banks? Or of the auto industry? Do they support Barack’s efforts to keep global warming legislation on the hot seat? Or to universalize healthcare? Or to tackle the Arab-Israeli conflict? This week, Senator Evan Bayh, who comes across as a cyborg from Planet Opportunism, announced on Morning Joe that he and 14 other “moderate Democratic” Senators – some of whom lack the cojones to identify themselves – are going to form a new group. From all appearances, Bayh’s group hopes to hold the balance of power in the Senate, serving as a kind of third party that will reign in the liberals and prevent them from allowing the President to get carried away with progressive legislation. God forbid that, in a democracy where we allowed Ronald Reagan to deregulate to his heart’s content, we would ever again allow liberals a chance to govern. God forbid that, after Barack Obama won his election in a landslide, we would ever permit him to implement the agenda for which he campaigned.
Well, enough with the naysayers. I, for one, support Barack. Sure he’s made mistakes, but I wouldn’t want any other living politician to take his place. Just consider how stacked the odds are against him. He’s being asked to win a gun fight with a knife, and a rather dull knife at that.
I’ll even cut him some slack on the financial bailout – as sickening as it has been, and as poorly as it has been handled, it does appear that something needed to be done to prevent the banks from collapsing. Still, for me to continue to support Barack with the same kind of vigor with which he has been attacked, he must keep certain principles in mind. If I could speak directly to the President, this is what I would say:
“First, stop giving in to the panic about our financial industry. We might have diffused part of the AIG stink bomb had we entered into the TARP deliberately. Then, we would have had a chance to decide which strings to attach and how legally to attach them. Now, everyone is panicking once again about the need to stop the God-forsaken bonuses from flowing. As a result, nobody seems to be paying attention to the constitutionality of the upcoming Congressional fix.
“So please, slow things down. And don’t let the Chicken Littles scare you into making any more mistakes. I, for one, would hope that you invite Paul Krugman into the White House and listen carefully to why he dislikes the bailout plan you’re reportedly poised to announce. I don’t know enough about economics to say that he’s right, but he does seem to have a better track record than most … including some of your advisors.
“Second, stop the bullshitting. Chris Dodd looks like a fool for telling two contradictory stories in two days about his role in the AIG scandal. But he’s not your responsibility. Geithner is. What kind of idiots does he think we are, saying that he took action immediately after he “heard about the full scale of these specific things [the AIG bonuses]”? That’s called weasel worded language, and it doesn’t sound like the “change” you promised. Gieithner obviously knew about the bonuses for months, so why didn’t he simply admit it? Nobody cares if he knew the “full scale” of the problem (i.e., that the total amount was precisely $165 million) when it’s clear that he knew that AIG was contractually obliged to pay huge bonus payments to the same jerks that helped screw up our economy. Clearly, he consciously decided for whatever reason to let the bonus payments go through. He should own up to that fact and not pretend that he’s recently been hoodwinked.
“As I mentioned in a previous post, your campaign was built on the need for credibility and transparency to return to Government. If you or your people lose sight of that, your Presidency will fail. And whenever you have a Cabinet member who loses his credibility and his ability to communicate with the public, you might want to reconsider his effectiveness. None of your underlings – not even Geithner – is ‘too big to fail.’ I have to say, though, that I’m hoping he stays on for a while longer; this wouldn’t be an optimal time to make a change.
“Third, remember what Government-by-bailout really means: trickle-down economics. Some of this is surely necessary, but it mustn’t become the sole theme of your economic plan.
Right now, that plan appears to be all about throwing ungodly – indeed, limitless -- sums of money at inept companies. The overall impression you’ve given is that nobody is being asked to sacrifice anything to get out of this economic recession – except, of course, for our children and grandchildren who must pay for the national debt, and middle class losers like me who have watched our 401Ks disintegrate. In other words, the people you are asking to sacrifice are the ones who can afford it the least. That’s not a sustainable approach for any President, and certainly not a Democratic one.
“Fourth, during your campaign, you talked about fiscal conservatism. You never said that you’d be increasing the national debt by many trillions of dollars. Now I’ll stipulate that times change, and a little extra deficit spending is only prudent during times of recession. Why, though, are you slavishly sticking to your campaign promises on revenues (i.e., taxes), if you’re so willing to steer a different course on the budget?
“Today, when I opened up the Washington Post, I was immediately blasted with news about your budget. The article says that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, your current proposals, if enacted, “would force the nation to borrow nearly $9.3 trillion over the next decade,” or $2.3 trillion more than you predicted. Further, deficits under your policies ‘would exceed 4 percent of the overall economy over the next 10 years, a level White House budget director Peter R. Orszag yesterday acknowledged would not be sustainable. The result, according to the CBO, would be an ever-expanding national debt that would exceed 82 percent of the overall economy by 2019 – double last year’s level – and threaten the nation’s financial stability.’
“Isn’t it time you addressed our budget crisis in earnest?
“If you want to honor the spirit of your campaign and maintain some budgetary sanity, you’ve got some difficult decisions to make. But one decision seems especially obvious: you must increase the top marginal tax rates to well above what they were under Clinton, when they reached 39.6%. Yet you surely know that those rates equaled 70% under Nixon and exceeded 90% under Eisenhower. Now that our nation’s economic needs are particularly acute and the distribution of wealth in this country is especially obscene, the time is ripe for re-instituting those old “Republican” tax plans … or at least something much, much closer to them.
“What? Did I hear you say that in this climate Americans will never voluntarily give up their nest eggs? Listen, man, they already have. Let me read to you from Thomas Friedman’s column, which was published on March 18th in the New York Times: ‘I live in Montgomery County, MD. The schoolteachers here, who make on average $67,000 a year, recently voted to voluntarily give up their 5 percent pay raise that was contractually agreed to for next year, saving our school system $89 million – so programs and teachers would not have to be terminated.’
“You didn’t even have to use your bully pulpit to convince Montgomery County’s schoolteachers to forsake their pay raise. These are public spirited people who naturally would agree to pitch in to help their country, just as an entire generation of Americans did during the early 40s. My wife was one of those Montgomery County schoolteachers, and she never bothered to mention to me about the vote before reading Friedman’s column; she felt ethically compelled to give up the extra pay. How else could she look herself in the mirror?
“Barack, if you want to be an American President worthy of your hype, you must make the case for sacrifice. And you must begin by demanding sacrifices from those Americans who are most able to afford the hit. Do you honestly think that by taxing the richest of the richest, their lifestyles will be noticeably affected? Or that they will lose all motivation to be productive at a time when their nation needs them the most?
“Spinoza, writing back in the 17th century, said that ‘providing for the poor is a duty, which falls on the State as a whole, and has regard only to the general advantage.’ You, Barack, have the misfortune of entering the White House at a point when nearly all of us either see ourselves as poor, or recognize the chance that we may soon enough achieve that status. We need you to marshal the public funds to support us. And to do that, you have a choice: wimp out and borrow money from our children and grandchildren to put off the day of reckoning; or take the case to the country that we can no longer afford our vast inequality of wealth and that the nation’s corporate lawyers, Wall Street tycoons, and Hollywood celebrities will have to live more like the rest of us and adopt the spirit of the Montgomery County schoolteachers.
“Sure, you’ll get some grief from Fox News, CNBC, and talk radio. But that shouldn’t be a problem – if you’re willing to take off the kid gloves. Trot out the schoolteachers. Introduce us to the nurses and the social workers who are equally public spirited. Let them tell their stories, stories of true patriotism and religiosity in the highest sense of that word. Ever since Reagan, the AIGs of the world have been foisting on us all the baloney that THEY are the real patriots because their superior wealth attests to their superior economic contributions. Now we’ve all seen what a crock that is.
“We are good and ready for a statesman like you to tell every American that they will be expected to pitch in. I’m not talking about implementing socialism, or depriving people of all incentives to excel in the economic arena. But I am talking about restoring the kind of wealth equity we had in the decades before Gordon Gekko. Back then, we knew we had to win wars and fight for prosperity. It required the kind of ‘focus’ Mitt Romney spoke about, and yet it wasn’t just the focus of the President, it was the focus of the entire nation.
“Mr. President, this is your time. This is the time to put your incredible oratorical skills to the test. This is the time to challenge the people of this nation. Are they more like the Montgomery County schoolteachers or the executives of AIG? Please help us find out. If my memory of your inauguration hasn’t failed, I think we just might surprise you.”