My goodness, the presidential election is almost upon us and my notepad has gathered a thin layer of dust over the past few months. Now that my self-induced writing coma is over, it’s high time to get on with the business at hand: participating in the armchair media punditry battle where I make believe the things I say will have an actual impact on who will be elected President of the United States.
As my home state of New York is all but a foregone conclusion—a place where candidates troll for funds but take electoral votes for granted—I can only hope my words fly across the social networking transom and into the eyes and ears of undecided swing state Rumpelstiltskins. Therefore, if you have a cousin in Ohio or an aunt in Florida, by all means, please feel free to share.
Over the next several weeks I am dedicating this space exclusively to the big issues of the election. One at a time. The goal is to put each issue into its own proper context, devoid of ideology. Nothing I write will be worthy of a meme or ironic block text quote on Facebook. (Although if a particular quote inspires you, I insist that the accompanying image be one of a tearful clown.) The ideas herein and heretofore will not fit on a bumper sticker or even a tweet. But hopefully, at the end of the series, I will have provided enough factual information to assist one in making an informed decision. As I have a good idea of where it is all going, I can tell you that I have already made up my mind.
(Spoiler alert) I am voting for Barack Obama. Again. The answer as to why a privileged white guy from the suburbs who once ran for a local office as a Republican would cast not one, but now two votes for this man shall hopefully become obvious by the end of this series. For those impatient souls who are inclined to write these missives off in advance, having already read the last line of the story, I bid you farewell. For those willing to join me in this informational pilgrimage, this first column will serve as base camp—the place from which we begin our summit quest.
Base camp is where climbers find oxygen and sustenance. In our virtual journey the air we breathe will be logic and our nourishment will be the facts we consume. Even Sir Edmund Hillary would find the air quite thin in a place as bizarre as Washington, D.C., where nothing is as it seems and politicians suck the oxygen out of any room. It’s what makes our baseline discussion here so important.
Here are the key facts for us to consider as we begin our ascent:
• The net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans as measured by Forbes magazine exceeds that of more than 150 million Americans. (That’s half of all of us.) Net worth is measured by assets such as one’s home, retirement investments and cash in the bank compared to related debts such as your mortgage, student loans and car payments. This figure has been vetted numerous times and it is agreed that this statistic is not only accurate but, in all likeliness, slightly conservative.
• When Barack Obama was the president-elect, the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of 100,000 per week. When he was sworn in as POTUS in January of 2009 that number had ballooned to 200,000 per week.
• Seventy percent of the federal budget is mandated by law. Of the remaining 30 percent, or $1.1 trillion, half is allocated toward military spending. To put things further into perspective, the Environmental Protection Agency is less than 1 percent of the discretionary budget, making it a fraction of 1 percent of the total. So let’s notspend much time talking about how the EPA is strangling our competitiveness.
• During his tenure as president, George W. Bush gave back more refunds to the top 1 percent of taxpayers than the bottom 80 percent combined. In addition to these tax cuts, he depleted the surplus by waging full-scale traditional war against two nations that had NOTHING to do with the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
• The financial system is in complete and utter disarray due to the irresponsible deregulatory frenzy that occurred over the past three decades. Regulations and capitalism are not mutually exclusive; in fact, a well-regulated economic system with proper regulatory checks and balances ensures financial freedom. This is not a counter-intuitive proposition. Only Wall Street tycoons, lobbyists and conservative think tanks want you to believe this.
There you go. These are the baseline facts by which we shall guide our discussion going forward. And I mean discussion. It’s no fun writing in a vacuum. So let’s talk.
The reason these points are few and focused is that the president has very little to do with things outside of the economy and military strategy. True, the POTUS sets the tone and establishes priorities outside the scope of defense spending and taxes, but these are the areas over which he has the greatest direct influence. The wild card regarding social issues is the potential death or resignation of a Supreme Court Justice as the implications of a presidential nomination have far-reaching and enduring consequences. But choosing a president based upon whom he might select for the highest court in the land is tricky and implies that one’s ideology is so fixed on a particular issue or issues that policy discussions are distracting sideshows to a larger social agenda.
Oh, I almost forgot my most important disclaimer. It is my firm belief that our nation is sick and our notion of democracy—having to choose from a field of two—is a caricature of its intended self. An illusion. But there are nevertheless important and immediate consequences inherent in the choice before us, no matter how much of a mockery and diversion it represents from whence we came. With that, let our quest for the summit begin.
Next week: John Maynard Keynes. To spend, or not to spend. See you on the mountain.