According to Oscar Wilde, the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function is the sign of a first-rate intelligence. On the other hand, a single individual in a position of leadership voicing two contradictory ideas in alternation, both as one’s own is confusing, counter-productive and doomed.
When it comes to the role of government in our nation’s economy, the Obama administration has attempted to do the economically wise, which is short term stimulus of a sluggish, unemployment-burdened economy, paying rhetorical obeisance to the eventual need for long-term debt control, in alternation with the unwise: a concession not only to Republican demands for drastic short-term deficit reduction as a ruse for shedding the government of programs Americans value; but worse, of endorsing and adopting the language of Republicans’ misinformation campaign promoting the economic non-sequitur that not only is stimulus ineffective in producing economic growth, but that deficit reduction will actually improve economic health, and in fact, is the only thing that will. This is the economics equivalent of selling water to the drowned.
Like many liberals and Democrats I continue to admire President Obama as a human being, not to mention for his cool intelligence (though now perhaps too cool for his or our own good), oratorical skills, inspirational ascension, enormous capabilities and vast potential. There are all kinds of arguments to be made about the possible rationales behind, practical considerations involved, negotiating merit or lack thereof, not to mention matters of intestinal fortitude and political reality when it comes to Obama’s capitulating to Republicans on so many matters both large and small .
But just in the narrow area of economics and economic health, we are seeing, as Obama prepares to address the nation Thursday about jobs, our paramount economic challenge and the one about which Americans say they are most concerned, some of the consequences of his messaging schizophrenia becoming more apparent. And simultaneously, we see more evidence of what no small number of liberals has been suggesting all along, which is that it is impossible to overestimate value and necessity of messaging, the requirement in the electronic age, and in a media environment in which radical “conservatism” is omnipresent, of insistent and incessant messaging when it comes to both educating voters, persuading them and more critically, battling a Know-nothing, morally and intellectually nihilistic and increasingly and markedly unhinged Republican Party.
A poll released over the last couple of days by the Los Angeles Times, conducted jointly by the Times and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences has found what one has come to expect in California, which is that Obama remains largely popular here. One question in the poll directed to Democrats and Independents found that in a ratio of two-to-one, respondents preferred that Obama “stand up and fight” Republicans harder rather than continuing to attempt to compromise. No doubt this likely reflects a view among Democrats all across the country.
What is worrisome in the poll however, is that California voters as a whole reveal an acceptance (49% to 37%) that surely exists elsewhere, and no doubt in even more disturbing numbers, of the idea that cutting the budget and reducing spending to curtail the deficit is more likely to lead to economic growth than government investment designed to stimulate the economy and increase employment. Once again, this belief contradicts the fundamental laws of economics. Looking for evidence of such in economic history would be tantamount to a search through the history books for instances in which intense flames applied to a forest caused the trees to freeze. You won’t find any.
But such a profound achievement in misinformation is what the Republican propaganda machine has accomplished. And unfortunately, Obama’s weaving of such a dubious and economically discredited view into his public statements over the last year of so has at the very least eased, and at worst greatly assisted Republicans in their corrupt but successful task. You can’t really tell people one minute that the economy requires public investment and consumer demand in order for the economy to grow; and the next tell them, and make budget decisions with Republicans on the basis that deficit reduction is the nation’s pressing problem, that carrying it out will actually make short-term economic health better without them being utterly confused and largely misinformed.
So in his upcoming speech addressing the nation’s job crisis Obama needs to make up his mind about his public posture on an issue so critical to the country and to his presidency certainly, and commit both practically and rhetorically to a short-term approach to growing the nation’s economy and putting Americans back to work, performing the morally and intellectually imperative task of a leader in educating Americans to the accurate facts about their own economy…and economics generally, providing a realistic version of the nation’s economic crisis and what it will take to cure it. If there is one thing we know to a scientific certainty it is that Republicans will continue to force-feed Americans a menu of cynically false and inaccurate propaganda, an irresponsible and now just profoundly crazy stew.
Furthermore, Obama and Democrats more broadly must listen to the increasing number of voices that have been attempting for some time to pound home the lesson to them that they must find or establish an equivalent or superior coordinated messaging apparatus to what Republicans have had for so long. Obama’s emphasis is said to be, and events would tend to bear it out, on only that which is immediately doable, in other words legislatively possible (though even that doesn’t justify last week’s unforgivable cave on EPA standards, which was purely a unilateral executive decision). If the last year or so in politics proves anything, it is that the impossible, and conspicuously wrong is doable with a strong-willed, coordinated and effective messaging effort: meaning a party can manage to all but dictate the government’s agenda while possessing one house of the legislative branch; or in other terms, a party that profoundly, visibly and indisputably wrecked the nation’s economy only several years ago could successfully sell an economic message.
It’s true that there is a segment of Republicans in congress impervious not only to reason and reality, but to all political persuasion, given their ideological fanaticism. But that doesn’t mean what’s left of Republicans still aspiring to some modicum of mainstream credibility can’t be pressured out of enabling the Bellevue wing. The alternative is a nation rendered into the psycho-swamp the Rick Perrys of the world would usher us into, an era that would make the era of George W. Bush feel like the progeny of the Enlightenment and Renaissance with fertility drugs.