While Herman Cain talks about his “9-9-9” plan to restore the economy and Mitt Romney touts a 59 point plan to do the same, while President Obama’s most recent plan can’t even command enough respect to get a vote in the Senate, the glass half empty crowd wonders if we’ll capable of solving any problem – economic or political.
Case in point: new research from the Washington Post and Bloomberg News paints the American mindset in gloomy colors. As Chris Cilliza notes in the Post, Forty four percent of the folks surveyed “said that it wouldn’t make much difference for their family’s financial situation if President Obama won a second term or if a Republican was elected. Among independents, nearly six in ten (58 percent) said no matter what happens in the 2012 there would likely be little change in their own financial situation.”
Put another way, many, many Americans say we’re doomed to endless political deadlock and prolonged economic stagnation. Welcome to America in the 21st Century.
In a sober piece in last Sunday’s New York Times, David Leonhardt offered the assessment that the current economic – and I would add political – turmoil may be even worse than it seems. In Leonhardt’s view, even during the Great Depression, Americans were inventing, innovating, building things. Not so much now.
“Even before the financial crisis began, the American economy was not healthy,” Leonhardt wrote. “Job growth was so weak during the economic expansion from 2001 to 2007 that employment failed to keep pace with the growing population, and the share of working adults declined. For the average person with a job, income growth barely exceeded inflation.”
Flat wages, not enough jobs, rapidly growing income disparity, a troubled education system, aging infrastructure, debt and default – the litany of American decline, but does it have to be?
Ask those folks in the Post and Bloomberg poll what the problems are and they know – no one has the answer, its all politics. As Cizilla wrote: “The wild swings in the electorate are directly attributable to a belief that neither party really knows what it’s doing and so once one side is given a chance for two years and nothing changes, voters — especially independents — are more than willing to give the other side a try. And then when that side produces few results, the cycle repeats itself.”
We are slipping into a year of political campaigning that, based upon what we’ve seen so far, is likely to produce a mostly irrelevant and depressing debate about the country’s real problems and what the real solutions might be.
A little over a year from now someone will be elected. Someone always is. But the current level of debate – and the almost total inability of our politics to engage on what is really important – brought to mind a piece I read years ago in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary for a column she wrote in 2001 entitled “The Campaign Speech You’ll Never Hear.”
Here’s a key sentence, Rabinowitz quoting a politician who, sadly, doesn’t exist on the presidential campaign trail today.
“I would say they’ve lowered the bar a lot for the highest office in the land, and I’m terrified to think how much, when I let myself think about it at all. My opponent and I — this is the best America can do? One of us is going to stand up and be sworn in as the new president of the United States? I suppose others in my shoes have had the same feeling, so maybe it’ll all work out.”
Maybe. The glass seems half empty.