That Vision Thing
(Political cartoon by Matt Wuerker and published at Daily Kos. Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)
Well, here we are in the dog days of summer, a state that apparently extends to the presidential election coming up in November. According to several polls, the election is a dead heat. It shouldn't be, but it is. And I finally found an explanation as to why that probably is the case. An op-ed column, written by Professor Drew Westen of Emory University, suggests that both candidates have failed to persuade the electorate of their qualifications because neither has a vision of what it will take to cure what ails us.
In 1933, four years after a calamitous market crash, Americans were losing hope. But then, on a cold day in March,Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address.
The new president pulled no punches, laying blame for the country's financial woes squarely on Wall Street speculators — and, by implication, on their benefactors in Washington. "They have no vision," he said, citing a passage from the Bible, "and when there is no vision, the people perish."
Roosevelt, by contrast, clearly articulated a vision that reawakened the hope of a beleaguered nation. He spoke that day of the country's greatest need — putting people back to work — and he laid out a plan for achieving that goal. ...
Americans today aren't interested in slogans and sound bites. They want the candidates to offer them a vision, but so far neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama has done so.
Republicans are recycling tired promises from the Reagan era, preaching a gospel of small government and fiscal responsibility. But their words ring hollow. Republicans have been sounding that theme for decades, but they've never put it into practice. Reagan tripled the national debt. George W. Bush nearly doubled it, and left a legacy of debt from two unfunded wars and unfunded tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy. ...
Voters aren't hearing a clear message from Obama either. On the one hand, he's pushing for more stimulus, but he is also the architect of a "grand bargain" that will cut more than $2 trillion from the 2013 federal budget, imposing the same kind of "austerity" that has proved so counterproductive in Europe. [Emphasis added]
So why is that? I mean, both candidates are consummate politicians. Both have had their share of election victories, in each case, against all odds. Yet neither has moved the American public in any kind of meaningful way. Neither has articulated a clear message beyond the drab sound bites designed to get the press's attention, one way or the other.
Westen comes up with several reasons for that disconnect, and I think he is onto something important.
So why hasn't either candidate offered a clear vision that resonates with the American people?
One reason is that, in a time that requires boldness, the two presidential candidates are both cautious by nature. But there are other reasons as well.
One is the role of money in politics. Roosevelt attacked Wall Street in his first speech as president, and backed up his rhetoric with one piece of legislation after another to limit its power. He used government money to put Americans directly to work — something no one had dreamed of doing before — and created Social Security, a minimum wage and unemployment insurance. In today's political culture, presidential candidates and legislators are beholden to Wall Street to support their campaigns, which has made the passage of such measures inconceivable. [Emphasis added]
Obama articulated a kind of vision in 2008, one which moved the country to elect him and the world to award him the Nobel Peace Prize even before he got his administration underway. And then he did nothing to implement that vision.
Since then, we've seen the world explode with fears and with hope: Tahrir Square, Wisconsin, Occupy. The very framing of the vision was handed out to those who would lead even in the face of Citizens United. Yet neither candidate, including "our guy", seems willing to step up to the challenge and to meet it by actually leading the nation in programs designed to benefit the 99% of us.
And so we are left with no real choice, just Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb.
This is not healthy for democracy.