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Trey Ellis Headshot

Mr. President, We're So Ready to Believe Again

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It's hanging there in the air right now. We can all feel it. As Labor Day kicks off the beginning of Midterm Madness, all us non-Tea Partiers are waiting for a reason to believe again. We're waiting to rally around a big idea from the president, an idea that will usher in the change that we still crave but fear is slipping away. The Beck-Palin minority bankrolled by the Murdoch-Koch billions is as energized as they've ever been. Losing the election was the best thing that ever happened to right-wing nutjobs.

So now, not only we progressives, but we the majority who voted for our president, need a crusade as compelling as Beck-Palin's shrill campaign to "restore honor."

Health care should have been that crusade but the terrifying job numbers have shoved every other policy advance off the table of our collective conscience.

The president's new stump speech, if the trial balloons are to be believed, seems like a fine start. He's expected to say that the GOP drove us into a ditch and the Dems are just now getting us out. And what's worse, he will argue, now the GOP has the nerve to ask for the car keys back! The speech is witty, hard-hitting and would do just the trick -- if the economy hadn't stalled again. Or, to use the president's new metaphor, if we hadn't slid back into the ditch (or at least seem to be teetering back on the edge). So both Geithner's overly happy talk in his New York Times op-ed and the president's very fine stump speech as written are actually extremely counter productive.

Not acknowledging that these are fearful times; that we'd hoped to be out of the woods by now but instead find ourselves still in peril, only makes our leaders seem out of touch. That line of platitudes can't help but remind voters of the previous administration's pathological need to sugar coat every economic forecast. We on the ground feel the malaise. We see the fear. We know or are the un- and the under-employed. Back then as now the quip that best summed up this type of voter disconnect was, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

So what's the answer? What's the counterweight to the cynical anarchy espoused by the right?

I've been thinking a lot about this, some might say obsessing, all summer. Everywhere you look "realists" are moaning that the government's hands are tied. More robust short-term stimulus spending that the vast majority of economists (and even many at the Fed) say will defibrillate our economy seems to be a political non-starter. The GOP's cynical obstructionism so far seems to be working, setting them on a near glide path to recapture the House and perhaps the Senate.

What the pundits seem to forget is our secret weapon: The forces that coalesced for the most spectacular election in our nation's history. Forces that lead to the election of one of the brightest, most charismatic president's we've ever elected. All he needs is that big idea and the will to see it through.

I not-humbly-at-all suggest that I have such an idea, cobbled together from some of the brightest minds that I've been able to steal from. A private/public, not-so-deficit-heavy but very large scale Works Progress Administration based around infrastructure bonds. I'll write more about it tomorrow. I ran it past a friend at the World Bank and I would truly love to hear what other economists think.

Whatever the answer, we need to do something big and fast. The other side's lack of a plan would ruin our nation and cement our slide. Hope always beats fear. The president just has to decide to turn on the switch.

Please check back in tomorrow.

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