The Election of 2012: Why the Most Important Issues May Be Off the Table (But Should Be On It)
We’re on the cusp of the 2012 election. What will it be about? It seems reasonably certain President Obama will be confronted by a putative Republican candidate who:
Believes corporations are people, wants to cut the top corporate rate to 25% (from the current 35%) and no longer require they pay tax on foreign income, who will eliminate capital gains and dividend taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year, raise the retirement age for Social Security and turn Medicaid into block grants to states, seek a balanced-budged amendment to the Constitution, require any regulatory agency issuing a new regulation repeal another regulation of equal cost (regardless of the benefits), and seek repeal of Obama’s healthcare plan.
Or one who:
Believes the Federal Reserve is treasonous when it expands the money supply, doubts human beings evolved from more primitive forms of life, seeks to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and shift most public services to the states, thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, while governor took a meat axe to public education and presided over an economy that generated large numbers of near-minimum-wage jobs, and who will shut down most federal regulatory agencies, cut corporate taxes, and seek repeal of Obama’s healthcare plan.
Whether it’s Romney or Perry, he’s sure to attack everything Obama has done or proposed. And Obama, for his part, will have to defend his positions and look for ways to counterpunch.
Hence, the parameters of public debate for the next fourteen months.
Within these narrow confines progressive ideas won’t get an airing. Even though poverty and unemployment will almost surely stay sky-high, wages will stagnate or continue to fall, inequality will widen, and deficit hawks will create an indelible (and false) impression that the nation can’t afford to do much about any of it – proposals to reverse these trends are unlikely to be heard.
Neither party’s presidential candidate will propose to tame CEO pay, create more tax brackets at the top and raise the highest marginal rates back to their levels in the 1950s and 1960s (that is, 70 to 90 percent), and match the capital-gains rate with ordinary income.
You won’t hear a call to strengthen labor unions and increase the bargaining power of ordinary workers.
Don’t expect an argument for resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act, thereby separating commercial from investment banking and stopping Wall Street’s most lucrative and dangerous practices.
You won’t hear there’s no reason to cut Medicare and Medicaid – that a better means of taming health-care costs is to use these programs’ bargaining clout with drug companies and hospitals to obtain better deals and to shift from fee-for-services to fee for healthy outcomes.
Nor will you hear why we must move toward Medicare for all.
Nor why the best approach to assuring Social Security’s long-term solvency is to lift the ceiling on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes.
Don’t expect any reference to the absurdity of spending more on the military than do all other countries put together, and the waste and futility of an unending and undeclared war against Islamic extremism – especially when we have so much to do at home.
Nor are you likely to hear proposals for ending the corruption of our democracy by big money.
Although proposals like these are more important and relevant than ever, they won’t be part of the upcoming presidential election.
But they should be part of the public debate nonetheless.
That’s why I urge you to speak out about them – at town halls, candidate forums, and public events. Continue to mobilize and organize around them. Talk with your local media about them. Use social media to get the truth out.
Don’t be silenced by Democrats who say by doing so we’ll jeopardize the President’s re-election. If anything we’ll be painting him as more of a centrist than Republicans want the public to believe. And we’ll be preserving the possibility (however faint) of a progressive agenda if he’s reelected.
Remember, too, the presidential race isn’t the only one occurring in 2012. More than a third of Senate seats and every House seat will be decided on, as well as numerous governorships and state races. Making a ruckus about these issues could push some candidates in this direction — particularly since, as polls show, much of the public agrees.
Most importantly, by continuing to push and prod we give hope to countless Americans on the verge of giving up. We give back to them the courage of their own convictions, and thereby lay the groundwork for a future progressive agenda — to take back America from the privileged and powerful, and restore broad-based prosperity.
© 2011 Robert Reich