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It's Not Just the Economy, Stupid

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We have written during the past year about the 2012 presidential election as being the defining one for several decades to come.

Many political, economic and cultural issues are being revisited. Limited or activist government? Supreme Court decisions, to be followed or ignored? Is the Second Amendment -- ratified in 1791 -- to be applied absolutely in 2012, in a country with a population of 320 million. Is advanced high tech weaponry a rational extension of the right to own a household musket in the homes of members of the original Continental Congress?

Does a successful future for our country really depend upon whether Governor Romney becomes president or Barack Hussein Obama is re-elected?

Away from the talking heads on television and the various columnists and Internet bloggers, the question on the minds of most people in or nation, appears to be: Who will effect a material change in their life commencing November 2012?

In the absence of some dramatic improvement in the economy and decrease in monthly jobless rate, on Election Day in November, President Obama will unavoidably be linked to the state of our economy. The president's re-election campaign knows this. The real question, however, is to what extent they have the creative ability to address the issue of the economy in a broader context.

Last week, in an address in Cleveland, Ohio, President Obama framed the over arching question voters will have to decide, as a choice between two approaches:

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

We believe that providing a clear path and leadership to address certain fundamental issues will determine which "approach" is chosen in November. The paramount issue underlying voters' choice is the perception of fairness vs. unfairness. There is a disquieting sense that some groups or people in our society have been given an advantage that others have not. This was the connective tissue of protest in the Occupy Wall Street movement and significantly influenced the results of the Wisconsin recall effort.

Linked to this concern about fairness is also the wide spread belief that President Obama and his administration have lost the ability to control or restrain the rate and amount of growth in our government's debt and the operating costs of government.

Yes, we know that voters have to be reminded of the consequences of the Bush tax cuts: the conduct of two wars on a "credit card" (off the balance sheet financing); inheriting a "jobs hole" 9 million jobs deep, with 6 million jobs transferred overseas. However, 500,000 jobs per month have been created under President Obama for the past 27 consecutive months.

All of this information is obscured by the perception of unfairness and the reality of income/wealth inequality highlighted by the nationwide participants in OWS. Add to this, the mere thought of the possibility that taxpayer dollars could be used to bailout Greece, or some foreign bank in Europe, when no one came to bailout unemployed American workers when their unemployment insurance ended or when their houses were being foreclosed. Right or wrong, many people across the nation are convinced that President Obama, as well intentioned as he seems, still "does not get it" when it comes to rise of our nation's debt.

This may be an unfair criticism of the president. We suggest a possible basis for this criticism is that, except for healthcare, the president has let the opposition set his agenda. His speech in Cleveland, referred to above, may have been too little and too late; notwithstanding, President Obama provided the most comprehensive and credible response to the pervasive perception of unfairness and the failure to reign in the costs of government.

The deceased author David Halberstam wrote a book years ago titled The Best and the Brightest. "The focus of the book is on the foreign policy crafted by the academics and intellectuals who were in John F. Kennedy's administration, and the consequences of those policies in Vietnam." Today, the nation's economy and escalating costs of government are equivalent to the magnitude of the problem presented by Vietnam to President Kennedy. The "best and the brightest" of Obama's advisers may be failing him on the economy and powerful backlash against the rising cost of government, as did those who advised JFK on Vietnam.

Underlying the choice that faces voters this November is something that remains unspoken, but dominates the concern of many who will vote: to what extent will current taxes (or increased taxes) be used to fund the unfunded pension obligations of state, municipal and federal employees? This appears to have been a significant factor involved in the failed Wisconsin Recall effort.

Who, if any, among the president's advisers is telling him that he has to immediately and forthrightly adopt and implement the recommendations of his Simpson Bowles Commission? When will presidential leadership be exercised to immediately submit legislation that grandfathers Social Security benefits for those currently 65 years of age, but raises the eligibility to 67 or 68 to enable it remain solvent for future retirees?

The third rail in the upcoming presidential election is the pervasive sense of unfairness, 99% unfairness, and the government's apparent inability or unwillingness to create a more "level playing field." Anyone who understands arithmetic knows taxes must be raised and the cost of government programs reduced. This unavoidably will include Medicare and Medicaid, as Social Security as we know it and increased taxes on the wealthy.

Yes, it is the economy, but not just that. These are serious political storm clouds threatening President Obama's re-election. Great local organization in the several key Electoral College states will not be enough of offset a potential "perfect storm" against his re-election.

  Obama Romney
Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
Obama won
Romney leading
Romney won
Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Holdover
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats Republicans
Seats won 201 234
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