We the people are witnessing the stirrings of one of the truly rare events in nature; our Congress in action. The Senate has taken the extraordinary step of actually acting on a trio of bills in the same month; the food safety package, the START treaty ratification process, and the now infamous Obamadeal with the Republicans. The House, which in fairness is usually quite active, moved on the politically controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. In view of all this auspicious activity, writing a column on sports this evening seemed frivolous.
But then, Congress is something of a sport for me. Much like a football game, I enjoy watching the battle while trying to anticipate the next move. The next move in politics, incidentally, is rarely as complicated as modern professional football strategy. The only real variables are money, time, and political polling. Please don’t misunderstand, The Rational Middle does not believe in a Congress without principles, far from it. I believe that most politicians, from both parties, genuinely care about their nation and retain their principles throughout their careers. I also believe, however, that politicians must be pragmatic, lest they not be around the next time their principles need defending.
What are we really voting on next Tuesday? The major issues in our democracy have been obscured behind layers of political white noise and an avalanche of innuendo. Long gone are the days when you could simply support or oppose abortion, supply-side economics, the nuclear triad, or welfare for the poor. The last two years have seen mounting campaigns against phantom enemies; conservative political operatives in particular have learned well the lessons of airborne electronic warfare. In that martial field the production, via chaff or digital signals, of false targets is a principle way to hide your own airplane.
And so politicians in this new American theater of operations have mastered the art of the straw man. Build him up and tear him down; just so long as the public doesn’t know the difference between the real subject and the red herring. The mythology of this midterm cycle began with, and has been mastered by, Republicans. But Democrats have fought back, usually clumsily, with their own brand of subterfuge. Regardless of who takes the tactical battles this Tuesday, our democracy has been dealt a stunning strategic setback this cycle. A brief summary of this campaign’s myths and legends follows after the break…what follows after the election is anybody’s guess.
In one week, the voters of our democracy will not be casting ballots on the issues. At least, they won’t be voting on the issues that are reported in the conservative mainstream media. Over the last weeks and days, I have seen report after report writing and speaking about the “voter anger” focused on the deficit and debt. Yet poll after poll has found that voters are angry about one thing above all others; jobs. Next Tuesday, we will not be voting on the primary tool used to address the real source of voter anger, the American Recovery Act. The artist formerly known as the Stimulus is one of the least understood and most maligned pieces of legislation in world history…and we aren’t voting on its substance.
The Recovery Act was the single largest working class tax cut in American history…at $287 billion it dwarfs any other package passed in terms of tax relief for regular working Americans. The rest of the bill, famously, was that horrible orphan known as government spending. Military barracks renovation, military hospital renovation, road work, rural water projects, rural broadband projects, wind farms, brown-water renovation (most of our nation’s commercial river traffic is supported by infrastructure that is 3/4 of a century old)…you name it, money was spent on it.
Blaming the media for the problems in our nation can be a tiresome habit. Politicians and sports figures learn the trick when they enter public life, and cling to the tactic to the bitter end. But the media does have a negative effect on the world that is particularly evident when they restate talking points or opinion as fact. A recent article from MSNBC contains good examples of bad journalism on the economy, proving that all misinformation is not the fault of Fox News.
Taken as a whole, the article written by producer John Schoen is not terrible, but it does perpetuate (without supporting evidence) purely political themes on the economic issues of today. I will provide a brief deconstruction of those themes in this post, but I encourage respondents to debate my conclusions in the comment section. Economics is a social science; facts and experimentation are foundational, but supposition and opinion form a far larger component than one would find in other disciplines.
TARP, Wall Street, big banks, investment banks, car companies, Stimulus, housing bubbles, Fannies & Freddie, deficits, exploding deficits, extended unemployment benefits, lions, tigers, and bears…oh my! I really don’t blame folks for screaming; “What the heck is going on!” In answer to all of this complexity, some news outlets and politicians have “simplified” the situation for us common folk. In their words, the bailout and stimulus, TARP and other measures are all the same deal. And, in the common refrain of our time, they are all President Obama’s fault.
Of course, some of this is the responsibility of our current president, while some of the “blame” goes to the previous president. It is my contention that most of this activity was necessary and effective, if not always executed with the greatest efficiency. Our economy is in a bad way now, but it would have been much, much worse. I think it is critical that we explore these issues, because the policies that made them necessary are threatening to make a second pass. The story of the Great Recession is a story of Americans spending a great deal of money without getting much of substance in return.
The kids over at Fox News have been gleefully reporting that the “$787 billion porkulus package is a failure”. The first reports from the “liberally biased mainstream media” supported the idea, because they cite the White House as the source that says 30,000 jobs have been created due to the package. Both sets of reporting come from data released on Recovery.org, the government’s website for all things stimulus.
Recovery.org exists to provide transparency for spending related to the recovery package. Unfortunately, the media did not read everthing they could see on the transparent website. All of the media outlets (Fox News can’t shoulder this burden alone) are to blame for what we are hearing. The problem isn’t in the writing or even presentation of the information, it is in the lack of research. The website very clearly states that the 30,083 jobs created come from “federal contract spending”, which represents about 8% of the total spend to date.