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September 9th, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Don’t be stupid!

When Bill Clinton was on the defensive, back in his first presidential run in 1992, the Democratic message was all over the map. At a time when the country was stuck with staggering economic woes, Louisiana’s own national political commentator James Carville stated the obvious:   “It’s the Economy stupid!”

The Carville admonition has been lost in the maze of bobbling diversions that have gotten both Democrats and Republicans off the stage of what the single focus should be.  The Ragin’ Cajun got the nation on point then, and the Democrats and Republicans need to stop bobbing and weaving and get on point now.   The overwhelming issue, hands down, is   the economy.

Issues like mosques, oil spills, birthers, and Martha’s Vineyard vacations stir up controversy over a short span of time.  But in the coming two months before the midterm election, it’s all going to come down to who can manage the economy better.  And up until now, neither party has much to crow about.

As those of you who listen to my nationally syndicated radio show know, I have little regard for either party on the national scene. When it comes to responsible debate on how to get the economy out of the doldrums, both parties get a failing grade. It’s the battle of the democrat-don’ts vs. the republican-can’ts.  The Democrats don’t dare and the Republicans don’t care. In the movie “Justice for All,” Al Pacino summed up our nationals dilemma well.  When the judge tells Pacino, who plays a lawyer, that he is out of order, he responds:  “We’re all out of order. The whole system is out of order.”

When it comes to spending beyond the country’s means, both parties share the blame. In the past two years, the Democrats have increased the national debt by almost $ 3 trillion dollars.  And what do taxpayers have to show for this huge increase in debt? Cash for clunkers? A bigger TV? Maybe. But certainly not economic growth.

The new stimulus package, costing the taxpayers $785 billion is focused on infrastructure needs. These needs are indisputably huge as any observer can see by driving our dilapidated roads and crossing our poorly maintained bridges. Most of the nation’s airports look like they were built when the Beatles first arrived in the U.S., fifty years ago. So the decaying infrastructure is a real issue.

But with unemployment figures approaching 15 %, there has to be much more on the table than just brick and mortar.  The average middle class American is just scraping by and pleading for a better game plan.  More and more Americans are asking:  “Is that all there is?”

Republicans don’t score too well on credibility, either.  This week’s NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows Democrats receiving an abysmal 33 % approval rating, while Republicans have plunged to just 24%.  And when it comes to spending, a Republican congress has had no problem with doling out the  money, either.  In 2000, the Republicans held control of both houses of congress as well as the presidency.  Similar to what the Democrats have right now. Federal spending when President Bush took office was $1.788 trillion.  Eight years later, federal spending was $2.982, a 60% increase in federal spending under a Republican president.  A fair question is whether Republicans will behave any differently if they gain control in November?

The bottom line is that spending is out of control and both parties share a large part of the blame.  When it comes to being fiscally responsible, you can put members of both parties in a sack, shake them up, and it would make little difference which one you pulled out.  Despite the talk, the political mantra Washington over the last 10 years has been “Spend Baby Spend.”

Some key Obama advisers are now saying they “get it” and the President will focus on jobs.  But last week, the President  addressed the nation on Iraq, waded into the mosque controversy, marked the fifth anniversary of Katrina, and talked to NBC’s Brian Williams about his religious faith and Glen Beck’s rally in Washington. “Oh, and by the way, we need to do more on the economy.”Â  Whoever is in charge of his public message needs wake up, smell the coffee, and go vback to square one.

Whatever the political rhetoric, two things are going on across the country today.  Economically, there is a growing perception by the average American that the country is moving into a severe recession.  And psychologically, there is widespread depression.  Many doubt that life is going to be better for their children.  That was always the American dream, wasn’t it?  But now there is a growing realization that the country faces fundamental economic structural problems with few options in sight. The President made a choice a year and a half ago. The emphasis was healthcare, not jobs.

Tom Friedman with The New York Times writes that the Obama challenge is to “grow the pie.” We spend enormous sums making things up (derivatives, CDO’s and numerous other exotic financial instruments that are not based on physical reality) rather than making things.  In my home state of Louisiana, we spend millions on keeping jobs for chicken pluckers and sweet potato farms, while high tech companies leave the state for lack of well-trained employees.

Afghanistan continues to be an albatross that is draining $2 billion of our tax dollars every week.  That’s one hundred billion dollars a year we’re pouring down the rat hole of a corrupt, debt ridden, collapsing economy ““ and nobody seem to be able to explain how we got into this quagmire in the first place. A good beginning for economic recovery would be to end this no win, no purpose, very costly ““ in dollars AND in lives — military exercise in futility.

Throw into the mix a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts that the President’s former budget director called for this week, and you have a real beginning for a turnaround.  There would be significantly more dollars available for both debt reduction and job related tax saving incentives.

We are in a war all right ““ an economic war that could well get worse before it gets better.  But it will take a creative and well-designed game plan and a much more substantial commitment to win this war.   It would be a wise exercise for all of us to re read the economic history of World War II from 1942 until 1944.  America got off its back with millions of people being put to work. The same “call for commitment” is certainly needed now.

The question is whether partisan politics can be put aside to implement a major response to our current economic war.  Our country needs such a plan.  The public is demanding it.  It is overwhelming in the public interest.  But don’t count on it, at least before the election.  After all, both parties have their priorities.  Remember, shake em’ up in a sack!  Unfortunately, it makes little difference which party you pull out.


When we talk about settling the country’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree.  It’s a mess.  It’s always been a mess.  We are not going to change it.” Joseph Campbell

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

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