THE BLOG
10/25/2011 02:36 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2011

We're All Rust Belters Now

Massive job loss. Persistent unemployment. Falling wages. Failing schools. Plummeting home values. Lack of opportunity. Loss of Hope.

Sound like America today?

It's actually a capsule description of conditions in the Mahoning Valley, Ohio since 1974.

The rest of you guys are just catching up.

Because we've been mired in a persistent -- some might say permanent -- recession for so long elected officials like me, professors from Youngstown State University, a wide range of civic, community, and labor leaders, and most of the area's residents know a lot about what causes economic implosions. Fact is, we can see a recession coming from a mile away.

Because we did not want the economic ills that afflicted our hometown to spread across the nation, we've spent a lot of time trying to warn folks outside the Rust Belt about what happens when corporations and politicians sell out the middle class.

Apparently, no one was listening.

When the basic steel industry imploded decimating our economy and tearing apart the very fabric of our community we warned that rampant de-industrialization would kill the American Dream.

The nation yawned.

During the debate over NAFTA we warned that unfair trade agreements would erase good-paying jobs. Then General Motors and Packard Electric shipped tens of thousands of them from the Valley to the Maquiladoras in Mexico proving us right.

The reaction: a collective shrug.

Then we warned that the systematic weakening of the labor movement started by Reagan and continued by the two Bushes would eventually lead to stagnant middle class wages, lost health care benefits, and disappearing pensions.

People laughed and said we were afflicted with an "antiquated union mentality."

Next we warned that turning our back on manufacturing would strand millions of Americans in low-wage service sector jobs that left them unable to buy houses, cars, take vacations, and make the other purchases that fueled our consumer-driven economy.

The rest of you scoffed and said, "Hey, look how many millionaires are buying yachts."

Finally, we warned that deregulation of the financial markets was placing the entire economy in the type of jeopardy that destroyed the steel industry.

All we got was the middle finger from Alan Greenspan, Bob Rubin, and the Wall Street robber barons who believed in the "self-correcting power of the free market."

Well, here we are today with most of the country facing the dilemmas that have plagued the Youngstown area for years and, surprise, no one's laughing at us anymore.

Look, I'm not here to gloat over the fact that the economic Armageddon we predicted is now coming to pass. I care too much about America and its future for that.

I'm reminding everyone that we were correct about the consequences of globalization and de-industrialization (those are fancy words for corporations and government screwing the working guy) in the hope that people will pay attention when I talk about how to deal with the serious economic challenges confronting our nation. The way I see it, being right about what was going to go wrong should give me credibility when I talk about how to make things right again.

That's especially true when you consider that the solution I'm proposing is working in the Valley today. How's that for irony: while the rest of the nation is stuck in an economic morass, we're actually making progress. Our unemployment rate is down, a new billion dollar steel mill is going up, and Chevy Cruz's are selling as fast as the UAW members at the local plant can roll them off the assembly line.

What's been the catalyst for our renaissance? What's the key to our success?

It can be summed up in one word: GOVERNMENT. Government investment in infrastructure and that made the expansion of V&M Star Steel a reality and made the GM plant at Lordstown more competitive and viable. Government investment -- opposed by most members of the GOP -- that saved General Motors and Chrysler. Government investment in people in the form of job training and enhanced educational opportunities.

The noise you just heard was the Tea Partiers, Grover Norquist, the members of the GOP House and Senate Caucuses who worship at his no new taxes altar, and all 47 mental midgets seeking the GOP nomination moaning in agony at the mere mention of the word. But wail and gnash their teeth as they might, protest as they will, had federal, state, and local governments not been involved from day one, the revival that is lifting the Valley out of the economic doldrums would not be happening.

That's why I was heartened when President Obama decided to stop playing footsy with John Boehner -- now there's a disturbing image -- and act like a member of the party of FDR, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, and the New Frontier. And while some of us believe that he may have waited too long and that his American Jobs Act may not be expansive enough, we're glad he's recognized that government and only government can refire our economy.

As a 30 year veteran of the war that multinational corporations and their GOP minions have waged against working families, I'm also glad the President's now believes that in order to save the American Dream for future generations he must become class warrior-in-chief now.

It's time to put compromise and accommodation aside and force Congressional Republicans and those fighting for the party's presidential nomination to show whose side they are on. His jobs plan will force them to support or oppose creating jobs, rebuilding the nation's crumbling infrastructure, and improving education -- to decide whether they place the interests of Wall Street investors over investing in Main Street.

Whether the AJA ultimately passes or is killed in Congress by the GOP, simply having the debate about the role government should play in the economy is critically important on the eve of the 2012 elections. For the first time in too long a time a clear line of delineation will be drawn between the parties. A line so bright that the American people will have a clear choice between a president and a party that believes government must play an active role in the economy and the party that believes government is the enemy and that free market will provide.

In essence it's a choice between a philosophy of government activism that generated the largest economic expansion in the history of the United States and one that relied on the market to self-regulate and brought the middle class to the brink of extinction.

Here's one more warning from the Rust Belt: choose wisely -- our future is at stake.