It's hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: American weakness projected by Barack Obama. People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney said recently, "are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president." He added, "We've got a problem with weakness, and it's centered right in the White House." Really? It's instructive to ask: What exactly would a Republican president advised by Cheney do in each of these crises? Let's take them one at a time.
When you consider what has been happening to the average working person since the era of Ronald Reagan, it's amazing that the Republicans have fought the Democrats about to a draw. The recipe of Reagan and both Bushes has been to weaken government, undermine the regulation of market excesses, attack core social insurance programs, tilt the tax system away from the wealthy and towards the middle class, gut the safeguards that protect workers on the job, make college ever more unaffordable, and appoint judges who undermine democracy itself. That stuff is not exactly popular. Yet Democrats seem largely unable to convert Republican elitism to their advantage.
Last month, President Obama belatedly decided that the global climate crisis necessitated action to reduce carbon emission caused by coal. He authorized the EPA to issue draft regulations requiring utilities to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by up to 30 percent by 2030. With climate change and coal's inherent dirtiness not exactly state secrets, I wondered why the president had waited until a difficult election year, when Democrats in coal states face difficult elections. But Obama's unerring sense of timing is a subject for another day. And these proposed regulations, though an improvement, only scratch the surface of what needs to be done. The thought occurred: Wouldn't the economic dislocations of a serious effort on climate change be more bearable if the economy were at full employment?
Here's what the Environmental Protection Agency's new pollution standards for power plants will mean for America: More jobs, less carbon. Of course the fossil fuel industry and some manufacturing organizations are trying to push the false premise that you can't have a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as a world leader. Yet the new Social Progress Index, a comprehensive framework measuring numerous important social outcomes, paints a very different picture - the U.S. ranks only 16th of 132 countries measured, behind other large countries such as Germany, the UK, Japan and Canada. On Health and Wellness, for example, we spend more on health care than any country in the world but in terms of the outcomes achieved--such as obesity and life expectancy--we are number 70 in the world, way below our advanced economy peers.