Friday, October 3, 2008
IN MY OPINION (Column)
The Symbolism of Change
By TED RUHIG
With the presidential campaign picking up speed, the country is now being pervaded by a deep sense of divorce from important political realities. The Republican game plan does not acknowledge the deepening economic sinkhole into which the country is falling.
During Bush’s two terms of office, the enormous largesse of the very wealthy has kept growing while the average person now makes less than they did when Bush took office. Not only that, but the downward pressure on wages is no longer just a blue-collar issue; it’s moved up to white collar workers, the educated classes, even doctors.
Key factors in the loss of real wages lie in the cost-of-living, which is much higher than it was six years ago. In particular, fuel is up 100 percent, higher education costs are up about 44 percent, healthcare premiums are up 80 percent, and affordable housing is scarce.
To respond to this economic mess, Republicans have attacked the Democrats for lack of action while not fingering the president for any of this situation. Yet total spending for the Iraq War for this fiscal year is approximately $611 billion. In addition, tax cuts enacted since 2001 have turned a would-be surplus into a deficit.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the deficit will be $158 billion this year. Based on Joint Committee on Taxation estimates, the tax cuts enacted since January 2001 cost $300 billion in 2007 alone.
The CBO points out that the U.S. budget deficit for fiscal 2008 - $407 billion - will be more than double the deficit for 2007. Under the CBO’s new projections, if expiring tax cuts are made permanent, Alternative Minimum Tax relief is extended and future costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan follow CBO’s most optimistic scenario, the deficit will climb to $245 billion (1.7 percent of GDP) in 2008 and to $409 billion (1.9 percent of GDP) in 2017 while never falling below $219 billion over the next 10 years. Do we want our children to face this burden?
At the St. Paul Republican convention, McCain ignored this fiscal reality perpetuated by his party over the last eight years and seized the “change” banner for himself. He lambasted the establishment in Washington D.C. He and other Republicans deliberately ignored President Bush and focused instead on the Democrats, saying the country would invite disaster if the White House was turned the over to them.
McCain’s message seems to be resonating with the public. Virtually all of the current polls show that John McCain has closed the gap against Barack Obama. They show that voters believe McCain would be a stronger manager of America’s declining economy even though he admits to knowing very little about economic issues.
McCain argues that he has often stood against Republicans on strategies for Iraq and special interest spending. “Obviously, I was very unpopular in some parts of my own party, whether it be on the issue of climate change or against (former Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld’s strategy and the president’s strategy in Iraq, or whether it be on campaign finance reform or a number of other issues that I fought against the ‘special interests,’” McCain said in an interview broadcast last Sunday on CBS “Face the Nation.”
The Nation magazine has editorialized that in making such statements, McCain is staging an elaborate fraud, the purpose of which is to divert the public’s attention from Republican mismanagement of government and to deceive voters about his agenda and the fact that he has supported Bush’s policies 90 percent of the time.
Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager, admitted as much when he said: “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”
Time magazine suggests that the selection of Sara Palin as his vice presidential candidate is an example of the McCain gesture “politics of change.” The electorate has gotten so caught up in talking about what Sarah Palin as a working mother means that the GOP fairytale has taken off that Palin is just a hockey mom, not a Bush clone.
According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, news coverage of Palin’s family has outstripped coverage of her record as mayor and governor in Alaska by a factor of almost two to one. Sara Palin as symbol has helped McCain win over white women voters and tie the race.
Palin’s symbolism is shadowing her dangerous reality. What is real is her lack of knowledge about foreign policy and national security. What are real are her extreme positions on domestic matters.
Palin opposes abortion in all circumstances while recent polls show that almost two-thirds of women agree with the Supreme Court decisions that established a woman’s right to an abortion. And only 15 percent believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Palin is a strong advocate of the NRA and opposes stricter gun control laws, yet recent polls show that 65 percent of women, in contrast to only 43 percent of men, favor such gun control laws.
MomsRising, an Internet blog, wants to get real when it says: “What we want to hear about is how she and Sen. McCain will deal with the fact that over 40 million people in our nation don’t have healthcare; about how they’ll address the fact that too few parents have access to affordable early learning/ child care for their children. We want to know what they are going to do to make sure mothers stop getting paid less for the same work as men just because they have children.”
Not addressing issues like these is exactly how the Republicans can win. An editorial in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette observes: “Americans do seem to vote for and elevate symbol over substance. Again and again Americans will choose symbolic fixes instead of evaluating the actual substance of proposals to solve real problems. Americans’ predilection for symbols has fueled political cynicism, leaving elections to be decided by sound bites and not sound programs.”
We can only hope that this time the voters will be willing face the big issues of our time rather than voting by symbols: ending a disastrous war, restoring America’s reputation in the world and building an economy that works for more than just the very rich.
The challenge for Democrats, says Katrina van den Heuvel in the Nation, “is to frame these issues in a way that connects with traditional American and progressive values, exposes Republican callousness and extremism, and in doing so trumps the GOP’s political marketing which cynically and cleverly plays on this symbolism of change.”
— Capitol News Service