Three short years ago, the U.S. economy seemed to be a model of growth: The stock market went up every day, pension and 401(k) plans exploded in value, and interest rates, aided by a shrinking federal deficit, marched inexorably down. Every first of the month, the Labor secretary would come on television and talk about the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that were being created. The Treasury secretary, Hamilton-like, strode among the world’s leaders, offering lessons in how to fix economies the American way.
Now jobs get lost monthly, the stock market seems stuck in the mud, mortgage rates just went up eight times in three weeks, and your pension or 401(k) is insolvent or vastly depleted. To make matters worse, the price of oil is sky-high and rising by the moment. The Labor secretary seems bewildered by the job losses; the Treasury secretary can barely be heard among the grim din of a worldwide economic slump.
Yet somehow, despite the silver platter of gloom, the Democrats have had limited luck in denting this president’s remarkable popularity.
Is that because things aren’t as bad as we think? No, it is because the Democrats have forgotten everything that President Clinton and Bob Rubin taught them. They spend all their time talking about repealing the tax breaks we just got and none of their time talking about fairness. They offer nothing for job creation, and less for growth in general.
What should the Democrats be screaming about instead of raising your taxes, a gambit that failed for Walter Mondale and for George Bush Sr.?
Here’s my multi-point plan to unseat President Bush in a way that makes the economy the issue in 2004:
First, the greatest single issue for baby-boomers is the utter demolition of retirement savings that has gone on in the past three years. Americans believe in fairness; they hate it when top dogs get millions and the pension plans get raided. The flagrant airline-industry-exec packages, the embarrassing IBM and Xerox skims, the new “assumptions” that allow executives to cut pension benefits to boost earnings—can’t any Democrat see this stuff and get as enraged about it as I am? How about the rape of the 401(k)? Many of the plans in the country are beholden to a few really horrible “aggressive growth” managers who kick back fees to the companies themselves for sticking with limited menu offerings. This cozy corroded capitalism has forced millions of classic white-collar workers into working for many more years simply because the government refuses to force the mutual funds to reveal their fee structures—which include the kickbacks. How can the Democrats not see this?
Then there is corporate corruption. The head of the Justice Department’s Corporate Fraud Task Force, Larry Thompson, says that no fraud is too small to go after. But the biggest fraud of all, the $12 billion MCI-WorldCom fraud, gets fast-tracked out of bankruptcy, with no criminal indictments and no scrutiny, even though many of the bad guys still work there and the systems that corrupted things are still in place. Bernie Ebbers, the man who ran the biggest fraud? Not even indicted. (Nor has Jeff Skilling, the man who ran the second-biggest fraud ever, Enron, been indicted. What a travesty!)
To make matters worse, by keeping MCI in the game, the Feds are ensuring the destruction of what was once the single biggest creator of jobs: the telecom industry. But if MCI is allowed out of bankruptcy with almost no debt, you can kiss good-bye those jobs they are fighting for so desperately at Verizon. Doesn’t anyone see that either?
Most Americans think, after the debacle of the past few years, that the stock market is rigged. They think legal casino gambling is better-regulated. The only politician to see this is Eliot Spitzer, who got more votes than the wildly popular George Pataki last time around in his attorney general’s race. Spitzer’s been outspoken in trying to clean up the game. But when the brokerage interests tried to snuff him last month, did any Democratic pol come to his side, even though he represents the key to the votes of those 55 million self-directed pensioners? Nah, another missed boat.
Speaking of spurned silver platters, has anyone from the Democratic Party read ex–CIA agent Robert Baer’s Sleeping With the Devil? This credible source postulates that the coddled Republican-Saudi relationship is based on the love of high oil prices, the GOP’s embrace of opec, and, alas, the dealings of the Republican-controlled Carlyle Group, a defense protectorate of retired GOP bigwigs that takes Saudi money and looks the other way at Saudi terrorism. Why not take up Baer’s challenge and link the GOP to higher energy prices and a coddling of Wahhabism in the name of big profits in the back end from defense contracts and oil profits? Shoot, I bet that one resonates with the Fox News Network, MSNBC, and CNN!
With the radical rise in mortgage rates, plus the beginning of the giant government-bond auctions, why can’t one of the Democratic candidates reach out to Bob Rubin and Larry Summers for some explanation of how the Republicans are going to cause your home to lose value if they don’t do something to rein in government spending? That’s the only linkage to the ballooning deficit voters understand. Rubin tamed the deficit, which let rates drop; now we are going in the other direction because Bush refuses to veto any spending whatsoever. What a great opportunity for a Democrat to say, “If elected, I will retire Alan Greenspan, put Bob Rubin in as Fed chairman, and restore the Clinton legacy of ever-lower deficits and ever-lower rates.” And instead of obsessing about repealing the tax cuts, the Democrats should focus on boosting the capital-gains tax to its older, higher levels.
Somehow I picture Karl Rove laughing his head off in the West Wing, saying to his cohorts, “They should be killing us—instead they’re making us look good!”
You know what? He’s right. The Democrats are beyond pathetic. I guess that’s why this lifelong Democrat and Democratic Party fund-raiser just might be forced to abstain from voting next year.