Don’t get fooled again

The debate is still often about “who loves the economy more, when it should be about people”.

People are "actually hurt by layoffs, lack of health insurance and the austerity-police" [Reuters]

Washington, DC, can be a strange place. It’s a city where experience is considered paramount – even if that experience sometimes consists of screaming “Remember The Maine” just before an ill-fated march into Iraq, or picking perhaps the single dumbest person this side of the aurora borealis to be your vice-presidential nominee. 

Hence, even after these most impressive achievements, somehow what John McCain says still matters so darn much that the networks fluff the sofa pillows just to his liking each week, as he occupies a Green Room near you for his regular Sunday-morning-media genuflection. 

It’s in this atmosphere that we’re now forced to confront a band of enormously wealthy people who’ve benefitted from – or bestowed upon others – large financial bailouts and ill-considered taxcuts who like lecturing Americans living on earned benefits about “shared sacrifice”. As in, you give up a meal each day, and I’ll give up a pair of yacht shoes! Deal? 

It is this truth that often goes unreported during discussions of our so-called “fiscal cliff” (besmirching my good name, I might add), a supposed doomsday scenario where the economy will turn into some sort of a combination of the prom scene from Carrie and Fox News’ “1/2 Hour News Hour”, if we don’t all sing kumbaya by year’s end.  

Or in the words of the great Peter Venkman “human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!” 

Meanwhile, back in reality-land, we’re reminded that how people talk about the economy often leads to this madness. As cognitive linguist Anat Shenker outlines in her enormously insightful book, Don’t Buy It: The Trouble With Talking Nonsense About The Economy, the economy isn’t a living, breathing thing. It can’t be hurt. In fact, as Shenker says, the problem is that the debate is still often about “who loves the economy more, when it should be about people”. 

Because, you see, people are actually hurt by layoffs, lack of health insurance and the austerity-police, or those plutocrats who’d consider it unclean to fly coach. 

 US economy struggles to regain footing

Consider former Senator Alan Simpson and Wall Street Democrat Erskine Bowles, the travelling clown show of austerity. They wander the land preaching cuts to Social Security and Medicare, netting $40,000 per speech to do it. Or, three years of Social Security benefits. Oh self-awareness – where art thou? 

Thankfully, there is reason for optimism, as a number of groups with whom I’ve worked closely, such as Social Security Works and USAction, have led a grassroots effort to point out who’s leading the charge to starve grandma – while wearing their finest Italian suits. 

One corporate-funded think-tank, Third Way, has gone so far as to release polling where they whispered the answers they sought from participants. Funny then, that their results don’t line up with numerous surveys nationally and in swing states that show roughly nine in 10 respondents don’t want their Social Security or Medicare cut in any way. Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works, recently tried to explain this to Third Way spokes-babbler Jim Kessler, during something meant to be a “debate”. 

Polling by USAction also shows what you already knew, that Americans who re-elected President Barack Obama and voted for Democrats to pick up seats in Congress support one of the President’s key positions – allowing tax rates to go back up on the top 2 per cent of income earners, or in monocle-speak, “shared sacrifice”. As Alan Charney, USAction programme director, told me, “Obama won this election on the narrative of raising taxes on the wealthy. It’s a sea change from the last 30 years. And it’s a mandate.” 

Of course, it’s not like the wealthiest among us have benefitted from this country (we built that, man!). Well, except for our roads. And our public universities. And that’s right, contract enforcement by the courts. And… I could go on, but then I’d have to steal the entire routine from The Life of Brian

It seems the President is paying close attention to all this, with his much tougher bargaining stance so far, which is heartening. After all, Obama won “political capital”, as George W Bush put it in 2004, even though our current president prevailed in 2012 by over a million more votes than Bush did in his re-election (and by nearly 50 more electoral votes). 

So when it comes to working with those who’d further enrich the jet-owning class, while cutting earned benefits for the middle-class (and below), please Mr President, listen to Mr Bush’s advice, just this once: “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”

Cliff Schecter is an author, pundit and public relations strategist whose firm Libertas, LLC handles media relations for political, corporate and non-profit clients. 

Follow him on Twitter: @CliffSchecter

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