Opinion

David Rohde

How Obama and Romney can up their middle-class game

By David Rohde
April 13, 2012

Barack Obama is going to save America’s middle class by taxing the rich and fostering an American manufacturing renaissance. Mitt Romney is going to revive it by creating more jobs for women and rewarding successful people instead of punishing them.

Welcome to the so-far deeply disappointing 2012 general election. This week’s middle-class-related broadsides from both campaigns bordered on the comic.

Obama’s promoting of the Buffett Rule in Florida on Tuesday was smart politics, but the measure is unlikely to create jobs or significantly reduce the deficit. Even liberal pundits assailed it as an election-year “gimmick.”

And Obama’s concept of reviving American manufacturing is politically appealing but completely untested. As my colleague Chrystia Freeland noted, it flies in the face of decades of Anglo-American conventional wisdom that state interventions in the economy inevitably fail. Whether Obama is right or wrong will not be known before Election Day.

Romney, meanwhile, used a piece of carefully selected economic data to try to attack a 19-percentage-point advantage Obama enjoys among female voters. On Tuesday, he toured a Delaware company that has a female CEO and said women have suffered 92.3 percent of job losses since Obama took office in January 2009. Within hours, the figure, while technically accurate, was criticized as misleading.

Since the recession began in December 2007, men have lost 3.3 million jobs and women have lost 1.2 million jobs, according to the New York Times Economix blog. The surge in job losses among women is primarily due to cuts in the female-dominated government sector. Those reductions were backed by Republicans, not Democrats.

Both campaigns can – and must – do better. A deeply shaken American middle class is yearning for honest debate and realistic approaches to the country’s economic and fiscal dilemmas.

The far left and far right have gotten louder thanks to Fox, MSNBC and the corporate owners of those media outlets, which profit financially from the division they sow. But I believe Middle America – and the independent voters who will decide the election – will award the White House to the candidate who shows the most pragmatism and political courage.

In truth, there are no simple answers when it comes to helping the middle class or understanding what is happening to it. No official U.S. government definition of the “middle class” exists. Nor does a consensus: Democrats say the middle class is in free fall, while Republicans insist it is doing just fine.

Whatever is occurring, public opinion polls show deep unease in Middle America. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last week found that 76 percent of Americans believe the country is still in recession and 68 percent think it is headed in the wrong direction.

Economists broadly agree that the best way to help the middle class is to create large numbers of high-paying new jobs. It is also crucial to rein in the federal deficit and make Social Security and Medicare – two cornerstones of a middle-class retirement – financially sustainable. The problems are far more complex than Warren Buffett paying less tax than his secretary or conservative diatribes against government regulation.

As Matt Miller correctly pointed out in the Washington Post this week, both parties are ignoring hard truths and hard choices. “The big Republican lie” is that the American government does not need to raise taxes in any form as baby boomers retire and the number of people on Social Security and Medicare doubles. And “the big Democratic lie” is that the country can solve its staggering fiscal problems by raising taxes only on people who make over $250,000 a year.

“More than most political deceptions,” Miller wrote, “these two warp the debate in ways that make pragmatic progress impossible.”

Miller’s solution? A truth-telling third-party candidate. The chances are low, but the stirrings of an independent bid still exist. Independents now make up 34 percent of voters across the country, according to a 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center, compared with 34 percent identifying themselves as Democrats and 28 percent as Republicans. A website, Americans Elect, has collected 2.5 million signatures in an effort to place an as-yet-unchosen independent candidate on the ballot.

I share their disappointment. So far, the two-party system is failing to spark the serious debate we desperately need.

Obama should detail exactly how he would tackle the deficit and create a lean but effective federal government. Romney should stop blaming government for all of America’s evils. Obama should announce specific reforms that will make Social Security and Medicare sustainable. And Romney should propose a reduction in defense spending instead of an increase.

Both candidates should take risks, be less political and get off their talking points. That is a naive sentiment, of course, but the country is divided, adrift and urgently in need of new models.

Romney, beware. Obama, for now, is winning the battle for Middle America.

Asked in last week’s poll which candidate would do a better job “defending the middle class,” Obama had a 10-percentage-point advantage over Romney. Asked which was a bigger problem in America, 52 percent chose “unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy” and only 37 percent said “over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity.”

And Obama, beware. He may narrowly win re-election, but avoiding hard truths is no way to gain a mandate. Tactical compromise has not served the White House well for the past four years. Is the Buffett Rule really the legacy Barack Obama wants to leave?

PHOTOS: President Barack Obama speaks about tax fairness and the economy at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney (L) walks into a campaign event with business owners Lorri Grayson (C) and Becky Suppe during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

Comments
11 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Neither Obama nor Romney care about what has already happened to the American middle class, and the only reason either is concerned is because they think there are more of them than there are. In the USA, the numbers are significantly below half of 2007.

They have been destroyed by Federal maintaining of a grossly overpriced US dollar and a desire to “help” foreign countries replace American middle class jobs. Importing foreign workers who duplicate American workers though the H1B visa program has not helped either.

Successful social policies aimed at reducing traditional “middle class” buying power have contributed. But most of all has been a total lack of concern about rapidly dwindling numbers of middle class households of native born Americans. Like the buffalo before them, these politicians think there will be no end to the herds of middle class shoppers and consumers. This is a religious belief, not a rational one.

These changes are bringing an unknowable future to this country. It will most certainly be very different, and the domestic and foreign industries that depended on the patronage of the American middle class will fade, and soon.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

When you make open-ended comments like “It is also crucial to rein in the federal deficit and make Social Security and Medicare – two cornerstones of a middle-class retirement – financially sustainable”, you need to be very careful to state exactly what you mean.

Social Security is NOT part of the federal budget, but a stand-alone trust fund for those who have paid in to it by working, and it is wrong to imply that Social Security is simply another piece of government largess that should be cut with the rest of it.

Furthermore, commentators like yourself need to start mentioning that Social Security is NOT a welfare program.

Social Security, per the US Supreme Court in MATHEWS v. ELDRIDGE, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), is private PROPERTY which is protected under the US Constitution.

Before you urge Congress to begin cutting Social Security, you should be aware that you are giving the government the right to wrongfully seize private property without “due process”.

This is a VERY slippery slope, so when cuts in Social Security don’t produce the desired results, it may be YOUR private property that will be sacrificed for the “good of the nation” next!

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

Regarding my comment above about Social Security being defined as property by the US Supreme Court.

What I fail to understand is how/why Obama, an expert in constitutional law, can allow discussions of cutting Social Security, when he knows (or should know) that such discussions are not valid under the constitution.

Obama should also know that Social Security is NOT part of the federal budget, but is PROPERTY per MATHEWS v. ELDRIDGE, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), yet not a single person in our government bothers to mention this fact — Social Security is “off limits” to cutting by Congress because it would be seizure of private property without “due process”.

And, no, “due process” does NOT mean “administrative procedures” by Congress, which desperately wants to cut Social Security for reasons of its own.

Per the Supreme Court in that landmark case “Procedural due process imposes constraints on governmental decisions which deprive individuals of “liberty” or “property” interests within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment.”

This has been further clarified to mean “This protection extends to all government proceedings that can result in an individual’s deprivation, whether civil or criminal in nature, from parole violation hearings to administrative hearings regarding government benefits and entitlements to full-blown criminal trials.”

Or, to put it more simply, where an individual is facing a (1) deprivation of (2) life, liberty, or property, (3) procedural due process mandates that he or she is entitled to adequate notice, a hearing, and a neutral judge.”

The Supreme Court, by using the Fifth Amendment to settle the issue of Social Security being property, is using it because the Fifth Amendment is the primary defense of the individual against usurpation of our rights against incursion by the government!

NOWHERE does the US Constitution give Congress the right to deprive people of their property without “due process”. Furthermore, the power of “due process” does NOT reside with Congress, but with the US Court system, and ultimately the US Supreme Court.

I completely fail to understand why NO ONE has EVER mentioned this fact in ANY article I have read about Social Security!

How about starting to tell the truth for a change, before even more damage is done by “errors of omission”?

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

Finally, a reporter who got it right (accidentally of course). It is a game to them. Therein lies the problem. Let’s try electing citizen – statesmen who have real jobs. Vote them out — how hard SHOULD it be with a 10% satisfaction rating?

Posted by justsayin2011 | Report as abusive
 

One final comment on Social Security, regarding the oft-repeated charge by the young who think Social Security is nothing but a “transfer program” at their expense for the elderly who are in effect destroying their rights to Social Security when they retire.

What the US Supreme Court decision strongly implies in MATHEWS v. ELDRIDGE, 424 U.S. 319 (1976) is that while Congress cannot cut existing Social Security because it would be a direct violation of the Fifth Amendment, it does not specifically prohibit Congress from IMMEDIATELY TERMINATING SOCIAL SECURITY FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

THAT is well within the power of Congress, since no vested interest in property rights would be violated.

Thus everyone who has already paid taxes in to Social Security would continue to get benefits, but no one else would be eligible going forward.

You might want to think hard about that before you encourage Congress to throw the old people to the wolves, so to speak.

You might just get what you wish for, only not what you expected.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

A politician is a politician is a politician….all the same.

Posted by alwayslearning | Report as abusive
 

Bush tax cuts, uncontrolled drug costs under Medicare Part D, and 2 essentially unfunded wars. All brought to Americans by Republicans. They are the apex of the deficit. Republicans should be booted out of office as long as they hold their no tax mandate. America may need to foster its national security, but creating or making up unclear reasons for war should never have been allowed. Congress and the media, in my opinion, are to blame as well as conservative votes, which for some unclear reasons believe that they have been put-upon by whoever or whatever. They suffer from what I call the Constant Aggrieved Conservative Psyche. Republicans in the House have made Americans worst off, but they Aggrieved Conservatives keep voting them. This is called the Great Derangement. Let’s pray that Americans toss them out in this election.

Posted by Jaay | Report as abusive
 

We need a third party – What to be a pirate ?

Posted by whyknot | Report as abusive
 

Where is Ross Perot, when we needed him..

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive
 

Policies starting with Reagan adminstration and to have continued un-abated till current presidency, successfully polarized the nation with a clear signature of a a developing nation burdened with $118T unfunded liabilities (at over a million dollars per tax payer) and national debt at $15.6T to have crossed over the GDP of $15.1T – a record second time performance since 1940′s. Source: http://www.usdebtclock.org.

Both parties have reckless disregard for sustaining the systems for the long term by pandering to the extremes (GOP to rich and DEMS to poor) at the cost of hard-working middle of both sides and have less regard for sustaining the local systems and national competitiveness for the long term, in the face of lobbying as legal-vehicle-of-corruption.

Of these, the policies of GOP will accelerate the deterioration further to a point of eventual self-correction via – core banks nationalized , land and property ceilings, luxury tax, value-added-taxes and the likes – that are the mature learnings of the developing nations that already led this path.

Growth will stagnate for some time till 2040-2050 where, the world-poluation explosion to over 11B, will trigger a wave of worls’d rich migration to US, will fuel growth once more.

Meanwhile, the young will face hardship and revolt at the source of their hardship.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive
 

You mean in other-words, how they can ‘be something they are not’?

The ‘elites’ and others that typically have the ambition to *devote their lives* to the concept of political office, kickbacks, political favors and such aren’t so much in touch with reality. They are all likely suffering from Narcissistic personality disorders, but don’t hold your breath for that diagnosis.

If we had farmers, businessmen, scientists, journalists, production workers, police officers, fire fighters, doctors, and the like in office – then in fact, they could relate to the US (and other) common people. But needing $53 Million to run for office means you are either very well off or you are writing checks you’ll have to pay back with political ‘favors’.

But they don’t – they consider themselves ‘above’ the regular people. This is evidenced and PROVEN by concepts like crime and punishment.

It will always, in this type of political environment, be considered a ‘worse’ crime to kill a Judge, Politician, or similar than it would be to kill a run down hooker or a jobless hippy? Why is there some arbitrary ‘higher’ value to a specific life? Because of money? LOL, seriously – it’s just paper or a shiny rock. Wow, I’m dazzled!

Of course, the concept of the USA speaks against this, in the first lines of the first document ever drafted by this country. But it’s totally ignored by these folks who are somehow ‘better’ than the rest. So much for the ‘created equal’ part, this country has been usurped by the ‘better than us’ snobs, and that’s exactly why it’s being run into the ground. This is the same reason the US revolution came to be to begin with.

But so much for history, it’s unimportant to most it seems. We won’t repeat it of course, it’s the year 2000 now and that somehow changes everything! Something ‘magical’ now insulates us from the mistakes of our forefathers and the past – maybe it’s the wondrous TV ‘programming’, eh?

It’s hard to see peers and the horizon when one’s nose is stuck in the air, said person would end up walking into anything, but that’s ok, no doubt someone somewhere owes them a ‘political favor’ to bail them out.

Posted by Overcast451 | Report as abusive
 

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