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Notes for Next Time

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I was pleased to see the unemployment rate come down to 7.8 percent. But honestly, that's not nearly good enough.

Too many of the jobs don't pay a decent wage. And they won't pay decently until we get unemployment down to about 4 percent, as it was in the 1990s.

Our kids are saddled with a trillion dollars of student debt, and they are going out into a very weak job market. 30 percent of recent college grads move back in with their parents.

Our retirees are facing an eroding pension system, and the loss of their home equity, as well as very low returns on their savings because the Federal Reserve has rightly lowered interest rates, as one strategy of cleaning up the financial mess that we inherited.

This is not a four-year problem. It is a three decades problem.

It is not a case of young versus old, but a case of the one percent -- who are only getting wealthier -- versus everyone else.

Now wait a minute, aren't I the incumbent? Shouldn't I be defending this economy?

The truth is, Americans are suffering from a 30-year trend of the very top getting nearly all of the gains of the economy's rising productivity -- a trend that turned critical in the fall of 2008 before I took office, under the presidency of George W. Bush.

The only exception to this dismal record was under President Clinton, when we had full employment, put the budget into surplus, protected Social Security, and created over 20 million jobs.

This long term crisis for working Americans was the result of Republican ideology and Republican policies -- of making the tax system less fair and of blocking efforts to use government to help regular people to catch a break; blocking policies to keep the speculative parts of the financial system from blowing up the rest of the economy.

Every effort I have made to address these deeper problems has been blocked by Governor Romney's party. The senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, said that his number one goal was to make sure I failed. Whether the issue has been efforts to make the tax system fairer, or to provide more debt relief to students and to homeowners, or to keep Wall Street from destroying the economy again, or restore investments in our people and our future, the Republicans have been the party of no.

And if Governor Romney is elected and they become the party of yes, heaven help us all. Because their idea of yes means yes to more tax breaks tilted to the extremely wealthy; yes to privatizing Social Security; yes to cutting the investments in our people that create ladders of opportunity.

Governor Romney actually suggested that young people solve their economic problems by borrowing from their parents. It may come as news to him, but most people of college age don't have rich parents. Most adults with college age kids are struggling, too.

We have heard a lot about job-creators. Supposedly, we have to give more tax breaks to the fortunate few who can well afford to pay their fair share.

Well, let's look at the record.

Four times as many jobs were created in the 1990s, when we had a fairer tax system and the wealthiest paid their fair share, than were created in the Bush era when had huge tax breaks for the well off and cut investments in our people.

The tax code was even more progressive in the three decades after World War II, when we had no trouble creating tens of millions of well paying jobs -- these were jobs that paid enough that one breadwinner could support a family.

In that era, corporations and well off individuals paid a much higher rate of tax, and the rest of us paid less. Do you know why American business prospered and created so many jobs? It was because regular working people had decent paychecks and could afford to buy the products.

So tax cuts for the wealthiest are no silver bullet. If they were, the George W. Bush era would have created 20 million jobs rather than the 5 million actually created.

Now Governor Romney says we can cut tax rates to 20 percent on everyone, without giving the top group yet another tax break, and without increasing the deficit. He claims we can do that by closing loopholes.

But what loopholes? He won't tell us.

There are some loopholes that do benefit the very rich -- including the one that allows Governor Romney to pay taxes at just 14 percent of his income. I hope he will support closing that one.

But there just aren't enough loopholes that solely benefit the rich to pay for that big a tax cut.

So tell us, Governor, what would you get rid of? The tax deduction for mortgage interest -- just when housing prices are beginning to recover? Would you get rid of the charitable deduction, at a time when charities are being asked to fill holes in government help?

Governor Romney has a very imaginative concept of basic arithmetic. But he is running for president, not for magician. So tell us, governor, where would you get the money to make up the $5 trillion in revenue losses that result from cutting everyone's tax rate to 20 percent?

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Comments:

None of this stuff is too wonky to be grist for debate. The essence is very straightforward. You just need to explain it better.

It's OK to attack. There is a sweet spot between nasty and feeble. Call it jaunty. FDR had it. Reagan had it. You had it occasionally in 2008, and in the first debate Mitt Romney found it and you didn't.

A little class warfare on behalf of ordinary Americans is OK, because all the class solidarity lately has come from the one percent. Regular people know they are getting screwed. Romney actually affirmed what people are feeling. My colleague Harold Meyerson unearthed a terrific quote from that arch-liberal (and anti-radical) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. "Class conflict is essential if freedom is to be preserved because it is the only barrier to class domination." Exactly.

Your handlers who advised you to stick to the high road and the scripted talking points are idiots. They had front-runner disease -- which then mixed with your own excessive tendency to caution and diffidence.

The TV spots, campaign surrogates, and media fact-checks can rebut Romney's serial lies until the cows come home -- but it's no substitute for you finding a voice that calls him on the lies yourself, to his face. If you can't find that voice, you are toast and so are we. But I suspect that you can. Yes we can.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior fellow at Demos.
His latest book is 'A Presidency in Peril'.
(Boy, is it ever.)

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