There is story after story of the shocking impact of terrible economic times. The loudest and most consistent voices in public discourse are conservative ones running around screaming, “The sky is falling!” which, in turn, causes the sky to fall. The president is perceived, even by his friends, as a man ignoring a ringing phone. A man we dearly love but who seems to be inexplicably distant from the great trouble confounding the nation. What we need, what the world needs, are the remaining two spies—Joshua and Caleb—a calming and rational voice to articulate vision and direction in strong, steady and even tones. Not the wild gesticulations of the conservative fringe, but a grown up. The country, the world, is in desperate need of a grown-up. of someone who will give a good report.
Beverly Ghost Town
One of the scariest things I’ve ever seen were deer wandering
the immaculate, tree-lines, manicured streets of Broadmoor
Bluffs, the Beverly Hills of Colorado Springs. The Broadmoor Bluffs area is one of the most exclusive
in town; old money, tech stock money lives there.
Make sure you’re driving a luxury car or at least a late model
car, detailed and sparkling, before you dare drive up there,
lest you end up escorted back down the hill by private security
or Springs police. It is a fabulous place, a place we’ve all
dreamed about: huge homes, lush gardens, a Benz in every
driveway. A friend and I took a drive up there recently and
returned from our visit shocked and sobered and keenly aware of
how dire America’s economic situation is. Along those curving
roads you’d expect to find kids on bikes, the family dog chasing
a Frisbee, teens hanging out, mom gardening, dad chatting across
a fence. We saw none of that. We saw deer. Whole families of
deer, just hanging out. Lying down, sunning themselves on plush
lawns, leisurely wandering from home to home,
unafraid of and unconcerned about us. Everywhere you looked, you saw
deer cooling their heels on the most posh, most exclusive real
estate in town. No kids, no dogs, no people whatsoever. No
private security shooing us away. No cops. It was a ghost town,
unnerving as any Twilight Zone episode. And, stuck into the lawn
of every third house we passed, bank-owned, short sale, auction,
One of the best-kept secrets of Colorado Springs is how even the very well-off are losing their shirts in this economic downturn. It is not talked about much, I’ve never seen a news piece about the Broadmoor Bluffs Ghost Town, but this is the new reality: everybody’s broke. We are, this moment, living in a state of anxiety, those really suffering and those still doing well. The wild fluctuations of the stock market and the downgrading of the nation’s credit rating have us all on edge, even those of us with no money in the market and no 401k attached to it. It is an economic downturn unlike any this generation has ever seen. There is no end in sight, and our leaders, frankly, have no viable ideas for arresting this situation. The nation’s ballooning debt is certainly frightening, but the truth is, if we don’t find a way out of this economic malaise, that debt will never be paid.
President Herbert Hoover, faced with a similar economic and debt crisis, chose fiscal austerity, concentrating on balancing the budget and cutting spending. That choice spiraled the nation into The Great Depression. Spending is the fuel that makes the economic engine turn. Every night, the news reports Americans are cutting back on spending, the news of which, in turn, causes Americans to cut back on spending. Big corporations, sitting on trillions in profit, are playing a wait-and-see game trying to ride out the downturn. If there is no public spending, and there is no corporate spending, that leaves only government to inject cash into the system and keep the wheels from grinding to a halt—which will lead to a second Great Depression. This is not theory. This is remedial math. And yet the battle in Washington continues to be about spending verses debt.
Because the White House is apparently completely inept at getting its message out and educating the public, the loudest and most consistent voices in public discourse are conservative ones running around screaming, “The sky is falling!” which, in turn, causes the sky to fall. Man-on-the-street interviews have average people parroting, word-for-word, the GOP party line—Obama Has Failed, Cut Spending, Reduce The Debt, Balance The Budget. This is Economics For Idiots. The message should be Jobs, Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs. The truth, the one no one seems to want to admit, is stopping spending makes the problem worse, not better: If We Stop Spending, We Die. I don’t blame the president for the economic crisis. I blame him for, in a time of national crisis, being so utterly bad at messaging, ceding the microphone to the Republicans and the extremists leading them around by the nose. It seems, to me, there’s not one spine left in Washington, D.C. America seems, frankly, disgusted with all of them.
Speaking Disaster Into Existence
During the five agonizing weeks of Bush v. Gore, then-Governor
George W. Bush and his surrogates fought the war of public
opinion in part by badmouthing the economy and making vague,
dire-sounding predictions of our economic future in a Gore
presidency. I distinctly remember being alarmed at this tactic
because all economies are fragile. All economies are largely
about what the public believes: the U.S. dollar being worth
about what we believe it’s worth. Politicians are usually quite
careful about what they say regarding the economy, and Bush’s
attempt to hang an economic cloud over Gore’s head most
certainly placed one over his own after the U.S. Supreme Court
halted Gore’s ill-advised selective recount in Florida and
awarded Mr. Bush the presidency. Almost immediately, confidence
in the U.S. economy began slipping.
What began as a significant economic slowdown in the beginning of 2001 became a rout after September 11. The U.S. economy was in a full-blown recession for the first time in a decade, which has caused fiscal and monetary stimulus to be applied in doses not seen in a generation. It is this uncertainty that is wreaking havoc on the economy today (see sidebar). Bad news begets bad news if not worse news. Multiple disasters in Japan and near economic collapse in Europe and the Mediterranean have battered the fragile U.S. economic recovery to the point where words—just words—are enough to create wild economic swings in one direction or the other. Public statements like those ongoing from presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) expose her as a political dilettante and reckless nitwit completely lacking in knowledge or discipline as she herself becomes a major source of the economic woes she routinely rails against.
“What we saw last week is the markets unfortunately agreed with
me. Because the markets saw what happened in Washington when
Obama got a $2.4 trillion check. And one thing you learned is
you can't fool the markets. …We just raised the debt ceiling and
added $2.4 trillion more to the debt.…The reason why they
[Standard & Poor’s] lowered the rating is because we dumped
another $2.4 trillion in debt on the backs of Americans of the
— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), August 8, 2011
The downgrading of America’s credit had nothing to do with the monetary value of the debt limit increase. In its report on the downgrade, the firm’s analysts said the deal between the White House and Congress did not go far enough to address “medium-term debt dynamics,” and the debt fight indicated “the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.” Indeed, S&P analysts voiced concern that “the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.” [Washington Post]
The world is reacting not to just what we do but what we say. The world is reacting to the biggest financial threat: America’s voting people into office who know nothing about global economics or fiscal policy. We’re voting in a bunch of neophyte Gomers and crackpots like Bachmann whose eyes glaze over even when confronted with actual facts. These corn dog and beans
reactionary types know only one thing: no tax hikes and get rid
of Obama. This is terrifying: rational, experienced, mature
leadership being replaced by The Beverly Hillbillies. The global
markets are reacting to Texas Governor Rick Perry, Bachmann and her ilk, people too
self-absorbed and frankly to amateur-night to have anything like
an objective view of the real and lasting damage their threats
and obstructionism are wreaking across the globe.
A recent CBS Evening News broadcast (above) was perhaps the most depressing thing I’d seen all week. Story after story after story of the shocking impact of terrible economic times. The Republicans want to blame this all on President Obama, but this downturn began in the last year of Clinton and was made much worse by George W. Bush. Sitting in the Oval office, Obama is an easy target but the dirty secret that everyone knows is, it really wouldn’t matter much who was sitting in there. This beast has grown into proportions unimagined. If you really believe we’d be doing any better under President McCain, you should think again.