Election 2012: it’s still the economy, stupid

by politicalthing

Guest blog by Hassan Arif

The current economic situation has made the economy a dominant concern in political discourse in western countries. The United States is no exception, with the economy being a dominant theme of the 2012 presidential election, and a key concern on the minds of voters.

Reality bites:

While the 2008 election was dominated by Obamamania, the 2012 Democratic presidential campaign feels more conventional, focused on the issues of jobs and economic management, with sharp attacks on Mitt Romney and the Republican ticket. The realities of governing have dampened Obamamania. These are realities made especially harsh by the American legislative system where there are divided branches of government and decentralized party discipline.

Nonetheless, one can still say there is that sense of hope and idealism, even if elevated expectations from 2008 have been tempered and brought down to earth, in terms of a president who has prioritized jobs, and prioritized helping Americans through a difficult recession.

The Obama administration oversaw the saving of the automobile industry – preserving jobs in a major sector of the American economy – passed a stimulus bill that has saved and created jobs, and passed a health care bill that extends and improves coverage for Americans.

Economic times are difficult, but the Obama administration played an important role in alleviating the worse of it, and in putting the country on the path to recovery, even if this recovery is a long and slow one, and even if initiatives such as President Obama’s jobs bill have been obstructed in Congress.

GOP still veering hard right.

Meanwhile, Republicans are driven by an increasingly harsh neo-conservative ideology pushed forward by the Tea Party movement. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has campaigned to repeal “Obamacare” – even though he implemented a similar program as Massachusetts governor – with lower and middle income Republican voters seemingly oblivious to the fact that this would represent a blow to them.

Mitt Romney at the time of President Obama’s “bailout” of the automobile industry penned a column entitled Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. This was no doubt meant to be a nod to laissez-faire neo-conservative ideology where there is an aversion to government intervention in the economy, even if it is to save jobs and save a major American industry.

Furthermore, the Congressional budget promoted by Mr. Romney’s vice presidential pick Paul Ryan entails a slashing of programs for the poor and the middle-class all the while giving tax breaks to the wealthy. Where youth and the middle-class are under siege and the poor increasingly left behind, policies promoted by Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan would make lives worse for these people.

Economic policy: Pragmatism vs Ideology

The fundamental choice is not merely left or right, but of pragmatic and common sense policies by the Democrats based on the facts and realities of the American economy, versus a Republican economic policy bounded by ideological blinders. The Republicans are a party where scientific realities like climate change are denied, where the benefits of moving to the green economy are ignored, and where the benefits of government intervention are neglected.

There needs to be recognition of the important roles of the different components of the economy – the important role played by the federal government and federal economic intervention, as well as the importance of state and municipal initiatives along with the role of entrepreneurial innovation. Where conservative Republicans want to deny the benefit of virtually any (non-military) government intervention Democrats under President Obama recognize the importance of all of these components.

In a state like Vermont, the promotion and protection of local small businesses ensures that more money stays in the state, that there are greater avenues of upward mobility as more people can aspire to own their own businesses. There is an emphasis on sustainable urban planning, for example, in the city of Burlington – exemplified by the downtown Church Street which is open only to pedestrian activities – after a couple of successful experiments closing off the street to traffic in the early 1970s – and is located adjacent to a mall which emphasizes pedestrian level activity rather than being solely car-oriented, and which blends into the downtown streetscape.

This has contributed to a vibrant downtown – with street performers and local businesses that promote local culture – and a downtown that is busy and vibrant to the point of making Burlington seem like a much bigger city than its 200,000 metropolitan population. This is a draw for tourists, young professionals and innovative entrepreneurs.

Vermont is one of the most strongly Democratic voting states in the United States, and Burlington is a hotbed of progressive politics – Vermont’s socialist senator Bernie Sanders earlier in his political career was mayor of Burlington. Local initiatives and entrepreneurship, however, are hardly stifled.

Elections matter.

Contrary to Republican claims, progressive Democratic policies do not entail a takeover by the federal government, and they do not stifle state and local governments or entrepreneurship, but rather allow them to flourish. Conservatives cannot claim the mantle of sound economic and fiscal management as they have abdicated this in favour of a blinding neo-conservative ideology. Hopefully, pragmatic policies rather than ideology will win the day.