This is a classic "small d" democratic moment. The economy is in deep trouble — immediate and long term. Washington is oblivious, compromised by moneyed interests, knotted by ideological divides. It will take an angry and aroused citizens’ movement to demand the debate worthy of a great nation in deep trouble.
The dismal jobs numbers only punctuate the reality of an economy that isn’t producing sufficient jobs. The crisis is both immediate and long-term. The so-called recovery hasn’t begun to recover the jobs lost in the Great Recession. 25 million people are in need of full time work. Home values continue to fall. 25 percent of 17- to 25-year-old high school graduates not in college are out of work. Much of a generation is at risk.
The immediate is only an expression of more profound problems. The middle class was losing ground before the Great Recession. Good jobs are being shipped abroad. Wages aren’t keeping up with the costs of basics. The broad middle class that made America exceptional is disappearing. The American dream seems ever more like a nostalgic memory. The nation continues to run unsustainable trade deficits, and must dig out of a mountain of debt — both public and private. For the first time, an increasing majority of Americans fear their kids won’t fare as well as they have.
We need action to put people to work. But short term fixes aren’t enough. Americans are looking for a serious strategy that will get us out of the mess we are in.
The Beltway Bloviating
But inside the beltway, Washington is clueless. It’s the only major city in the country where housing prices are going up. A flood of corporate lobby money insures that the tables are full at the high end restaurants. Entrenched corporate interests buy a lot more than lunches with their dough. They block vital reforms on health care, energy, trade, Wall Street. They feed off taxpayers, protecting their subsidies and tax dodges, avoiding taxes, while deficits rise and essential programs like nutrition for infants get cut.
The politicians prefer posturing to bold action, "message" and "spin" to leadership. Republicans even with the majority in the House are focused on obstruction. They vote for more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, paid for by ending Medicare and Medicaid, hiking costs for those least able to pay — seniors, the disabled, the dying. They vow to blow up the economy if they can’t get a deal on trillions in domestic spending cuts, accompanied by more tax breaks for the wealthy. They’re lining their campaign coffers carrying water for the big banks against even minimal reforms.
The adult Republican presidential candidates like Mitch Romney claim they can get the economy going and create jobs. But they only recycle old and failed nostrums. More tax cuts for corporations who are already sitting on over a trillion in cash waiting for customers. More tax cuts for the wealthiest, who already have the most concentrated income and wealth since the eve of the Great Depression. More corporate trade deals that ship goods jobs abroad, undermine wages at home, and force up to borrow over a billion a day from abroad to balance the deficits. Less regulation when we haven’t recovered from the catastrophe caused by the excesses of deregulated Wall Street. They pretend they can balance the budget and put people to work by cutting domestic spending, cutting taxes, increasing spending on the military, and not dismantling basic promises like Medicare and Social Security. They and everyone else knows that is a lie.
The White House offers no clear way out. The president wants to hail the successes of an economy that isn’t working for most people. Yes, his policies saved us from free fall — thanks, but we’re worried about what we face, not where we’ve been. He sensibly calls for "winning the future" — making investments in areas like education, innovation and infrastructure. But he’s locked himself into austerity, focused on cuts, and offering no big vision of how we move forward. He’s more sensible than the tea party zealots, but remains unwilling to tell Americans what needs to be done and that fight for it.
The Democrats in the Senate are a babble, too divided to deliver a message. The House Democrats are cowed by the losses in 2010, too worried about being accused of being "big spenders" to lay out a course to get the economy going and put people to work.
And few seem ready to put out a strategy that necessarily will take on the interests that are strangling the dream. A national trade strategy that isn’t controlled by multinationals. Affordable health care not catering to private insurance and drug companies. Fair taxes that shut down the tax havens, the dodges, the obscene subsidies that drain our resources. An investment strategy that generates vital public and private investment, not more Wall Street speculation, or CEO incentives for laying off workers and plundering their own companies.
It will take a popular uprising to get Washington even to begin to focus seriously on jobs and the economy. We’ve seen this before. There was a bipartisan consensus on the Iraq War until a growing movement forced first Democrats and then the Bush White House to face reality. The Washington establishment was drunk on slashing Social Security and Medicare to address deficits, and Republicans embraced gutting Medicare, until popular disapproval expressed both in the polls and in the special election in upstate New York sobered them up a bit. The anger expressed by the Tea Party minority still has Republicans in Washington reeling.
Now we need the people to speak again. This time for the American majority. We aren’t buying the old conservative elixirs. The New Dem-Republican lite embrace of half measures and conservative cross dressing isn’t acceptable.
Washington has to hear a clear message. We elected you to get this economy going, not gut Medicare. We want to know how you will create jobs. We don’t want to be served the old tired babble. We know we can’t simply cut our way to prosperity. We know we need a major change in our global strategy. We know we’ve got to make investments vital to the future — in education and in innovation. We know this economy needs major reforms. Anyone not willing to challenge the corporate interests that are strangling change isn’t serious. We know it is hard to focus on creating jobs when deficits are this high. We know we’ll have to sacrifice, but we’re not broke — we don’t have to break promises to our kids or our parents. And don’t ask the victims of this economy to sacrifice when those making out like bandits are given a pass. We know once the economy is moving, taxes have to go up and spending has to be brought under control. So stop the nonsense of no tax hikes. Tell us what you will cut and why. Don’t pretend choices don’t have to be made.
So lay it out. How do you put people to work, change our economic strategy so we begin once more to make things in America and create good jobs, not poverty wage jobs? How does that relate to getting our books in order and our priorities straight? Give us a debate worthy of a great nation in deep trouble.
In August, after Washington reaches an inevitable deal on lifting the debt limit after weeks of posturing and bluster, of an idiotic debate focused on what to cut rather than how to get the economy going, legislators will return home for recess. They need to hear from us.