Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Bus Blogging Part Deux

David Bernstein writes:

The summarize (and perhaps clarify) the points I was making in Sunday's entry, I believe that 1) we are a very economically diverse country, with people all over the map in terms of assets, cash on hand, job status, etc.; and 2) that in spite of these differences, most of us share an aspirational approach to our economic futures -- that is, we all want more than we have now (or at least better value). In the comments, some referred to this as crass consumerism, although in my opinion consumerism is just one manifestation of an aspirational economy. It can also take the form of record applications to colleges, increased spending on lower priced goods that model higher priced items, and smarter consumption in terms of comparison shopping or understanding the long term versus short term costs of ownership -- all of which I would argue are important components of our modern economy.

I promised I would talk next about what this means for the election in December, so here it goes. First, let's do a quick recap of where each party is on the economy. The Democrats say that most people are suffering from a brutal economy that is destroying jobs, forcing people to forgo healthcare, making it impossible for them to send their kids to college, and generally widening the gap between rich and poor. The solution? The government must Do Something -- actually, dozens of somethings from raising taxes to repealing Nafta to nationalizing healthcare -- in order to increase economic security and protect 95% of us from the depredations of 5%.

The Republicans say we live in a dynamic economy that is still creating jobs, new businesses, and wealth at a huge pace. They dismiss fears of economic insecurity as creations of a hysterical, liberal biased media, or temporary effects of what is, in the aggregate, a growing nation. Any economic problems we do have can easily be alleviated by more tax reductions, fewer regulations, and stimulus of local economies by Federal seed money. You know, Pork.

Listen to how simplistic these arguments are, compared to reality of a complex, diverse nation with 300 million people. Parts of both party's lines will resonate with general public, but at the end of the day neither is particularly satisfying to most of us, because we know in our guts that they both present incomplete, politically self-serving visions of the country.

Now if any of the three remaining candidates can break out of the confining mold of this stale left-right dialog, they will find a very receptive audience among the public. I think this is particularly important for McCain, who needs to break from the GOP aversion to admitting that there is anything wrong with the economy besides high taxes, and start to explain to average people that yeah, we politicians do understand that not all is rosy out there -- and that $600 tax breaks to buy new iPhones ain't gonna cut it as an governing agenda.

Obama and Hillary, while just as moldy as the Republicans, at least have this going for them -- most people really do feel economically insecure, and it is not a media-created myth that things are going badly for many folks. So if McCain simply cedes them this ground and doesn't come with his own "I feel your pain" moment, there is little chance he can win in November.

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