Last year, Velma Hart made headlines when she addressed President Obama at a town hall on jobs. Unlike many of the town halls that Obama has attended as presidential candidate and president, not all of the participants were prepared to deliver softballs to the President, such as Velma. She famously told Obama that she was “exhausted of defending you [President Obama].” That phrase was shared across newscasts, blogs and radio shows – particularly with Republican-voting audiences – and gave Velma her “fifteen minutes of fame.” Unfortunately, since then, Velma has disappeared into obscurity as Washington and the media has moved onto something else to obsess about, but the activities during the past few weeks reminded TOC of another statement from Velma: “I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class.” This begs the question, who IS fighting for the middle class and “ordinary Americans?”
Who are our leaders fighting for, anyway?
Consider two events that have captivated political pundits over the past few months. The most recent is the coming vote on raising the debt limit. The US cannot legally allow the national debt to stay above $14.29 trillion (consider that if you went back in time to the days of Jesus Christ and spent $1 million per day, every day, until the present, you still would not have spent $1 trillion). Barack Obama’s press secretary stated that the President believes it was a mistake to vote against raising the debt limit to $9 trillion back in 2006 (when a different political party owned the White House). Now that the debt and annual budget deficits have grown more, he feels it is important to have it raised? Was it Barack Obama’s political allegiance to Democrats and the Democratic political agenda that caused him to curb Bush’s agenda back in 2006, or was it his “altruistic leadership instincts?”
A more direct consideration is the tax deal at the end of 2010. For months, the GOP had demanded that everyone get the extension of the Bush tax cuts, not just the middle class. Barack Obama, who campaigned against tax breaks for the rich, magically changed his mind at the last minute. Why? Why is it that the GOP was willing to hold out on the tax cut extension for the middle class in the first place, holding it hostage in exchange for the tax cut extension for the rich? Some arguments suggest that it was an economically-based decision in that the recovery could not handle any tax increase. Historically, across-the-board tax cuts lead to economic growth. Others suggest that tax revenue would have fallen as economic activity would slow as more of the reward of that economic activity would have gone to government – a disincentive for growth (the so-called Laffer curve). TOC’s conservative beliefs force him to consider such arguments; however, TOC never saw any evidence that a directed tax increase on the wealthy would have stifled economic growth or forced us back into recession – if any reader to this post can produce such evidence, feel free to do so. The Obama administration made feeble excuses for the flip-flop. Additionally, we got analysis from CNN and other news outlets on who “won” and “lost” and praise for Obama on his ability to “politically maneuver.” In the meantime, the very people Obama was supposed to take to task got their tax break. If there were objective reasons for Obama to accept the tax break for the rich, why did he make the recent speech on the rich paying their “fair share”? Of course, that speech is just talk. Maybe when you need $1 billion to run a campaign, you cannot depend exclusively on middle class donors giving $20 on barackobama.com.
TOC’s objective is not to discuss economic theory here, but instead to ask, who was the main focal point of these negotiations and outcomes? The Democrats (Obama) and Republicans are equally culpable. It seems that stopping the deficit is not the end in itself, but instead a means to an end (the end being gaining political power). Politicians and pundits see it as an issue that has strong reaction in focus groups and that is their issue – their path to political office or a larger radio/TV audience. Meanwhile, the “ordinary Americans” are the ones who are going to have to shoulder the brunt of larger and larger debt servicing costs with little in return – the rich have their loopholes that neither Congress nor the White House have the political fortitude to close (although such a move polls well with middle-class Americans).
This is precisely why we have to ask who is fighting for us, the ordinary Americans? If a politician says he or she has always fought for the middle class, it should be evident. We need to stop getting bogged down into “I’m a Republican, all Democrats are bad,” and vice versa. We need to stop allowing colorful language, generalities, and the thrill of “our side versus theirs” on some pundit’s news show to blind us to the fact that we serve as props in a game for the lobbyists and special interests. Let’s challenge our leaders and make sure they, “change things in a meaningful way for the middle class.”
In closing, we return to Velma. Unfortunately, Velma was laid off from her job as CFO of AmVETS, only 2 months after her famous discussion with Obama (no conspiracy theories, please). I am sure she appreciated all of the “fighting for the middle class” the politicians did for her when she became unemployed. Let us remember that when we watch these discussions about politics and negotiations on TV, these people are not our heroes or our gods, but they are our employees and they need to be fighting for us and that there are real people whose lives are at stake.