09/21/2012 05:00 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2012

Two-Party Distorted Economic Dialogue & The Need for Open Presidential Debates

The central unspoken issue in 2012 remains the continued 30-year wealth shift upward, exacerbated by Washington's false deficit narrative and calls for austerity that actually expand wealth inequity. Economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that wealth inequity itself prevents recovery of a recessionary economy. When money is transferred from bottom to top, demand for products drop because the "top spend a much smaller portion of their income than those in the bottom and middle." With the highest level of inequality among advanced countries, reversal of America's wealth disparity will increase employment and economic growth. The wealthy seize a larger share of revenues through "rent-seeking," by exploiting taxpayer subsidies, tax loopholes etc.

Economics professor Jack Rasmus describes the Washington consensus - that $4 trillion of wealth shifted upward as tax cuts for the rich over the previous decade be paid for over the next decade by $4 trillion in budget cuts taken disproportionately from programs vested in by the working/poor, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Financial policy heavily weighted in favor of wealth prefers taxpayer bailouts of banks over reversal of underwater mortgages; excess CEO rewards trump working class wages and pensions. Washington-speak is bent to favor the privileged 2%, the truly entitled, vs. the 98% who are widely demonized by the political right as "entitled" "takers" living off government. Never mind the irony of the greed and fraud propagated by the privileged class and too-big-to-fail Wall St. banks that wrecked the economy, while the burden of huge tax breaks for billionaires is shifted to the working class. "Fraud is the business model for Wall Street," notes Sen. Bernie Sanders. One-quarter of American corporations don't pay any taxes, and some stash their money in the Cayman Islands, bleeding the economy of $100 billion a year.

Language of entitlement harnessed against programs boosting the poorest serves as distraction from the dirty little Washington secret - the consistent milking of the federal treasury by elites resulting in a huge "entitlement" culture redistributing wealth from the bottom to the top. The false deficit narrative serves corporate CEOs, as their Washington lackeys pay for the steady wealth shift upward on the backs of the working class. Austerity mouthpiece Paul Ryan, too, has been complicit in driving up the deficit by voting for two wars without paying for them, a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the rich, and the very costly Medicare Part D prescription drug program which explicitly prohibits negotiation of bulk drug rates by Medicare.

Ryan and friends target Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as the primary culprits of deficit spending, while continuing to embrace hundreds of billions of dollars of annual taxpayer subsidies to pharmaceutical, health insurance, oil and other multinational corporations; bankruptcy laws that grant bailouts to investors in high-risk derivative but deny access to student loans holders; and tax loopholes favoring wealth.

Romney Republicans dismiss the working class as a nation of "takers," unwilling to "take personal responsibility" for their own lives, sucking off the government and benefitting from "America's Entitlement Epidemic" (subtitle of American Enterprise Institute associate Nicholas Eberstadt's book). Romney defines health care, food and housing as "entitlements," implying that only his class has worked hard enough to deserve these. In the rarefied atmosphere of Romney's world, workers who have increased U.S. productivity for 30 years while enduring flat wages are slackers.

National Review writer Patrick Brennan affirms Romney's truth, lamenting that "a disturbingly large share of Americans do rely on government entitlements" and "transfers," receiving more benefits than they pay in taxes to federal government. Overlooking corporate welfare, they instead target Social Security and Medicare, even though invested in by all working people whether they currently pay taxes or not. American Enterprise Institute's Nicholas Eberstadt takes up the drumbeat in his book "A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic," worried that "50 percent of Americans" live in households that benefits from federal benefits - a curious concern about universal programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Authors James Steele and Donald Bartlett (The Betrayal of the American Dream) point to the irony that people like Mitt Romney who want everyone in the middle and the bottom to pay their own way and assert that they want to cut taxes and deficits, have had no trouble grabbing as much money as they can get from Washington. When Romney headed the Olympic committee, "the entire operation raided the federal Treasury like no other Olympics in history." Consequently, Utah, a state with strong antipathy to paying taxes, received a government windfall "to take care of all of their needs for really the next generation" - Steele describes rebuilt infrastructure, sewer lines, land exchanges, transformation of ski resorts into world-class resorts, etc.

In light of the massive Republican assaults on social programs and their false deficit narrative serving the upward transfer of wealth, it is extremely disappointing that President Obama has not carried forward the populist vision of his 2008 campaign. Rather than address the economy to the benefit of working people with a massive jobs program and Medicare-for-All, President Obama has largely conceded the deficit narrative to the political right, compromising to the right with a Republican Party that seeks the destruction of his presidency and the working class, even at the cost of dismantling democracy.

The president in 2011 began earnestly dealing away programs that Democrats have historically defended. He formed an agreement with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich and lower their estate taxes while bargaining away revenues from the Social Security Trust Fund, compromising its future. Even as he campaigns in 2012 to protect Medicare and Social Security against Republican assaults, he and his advisors have offered to gradually deal away those programs.

Forgoing the opportunity to address two problems at once - deficit reduction and health care for all with a program of improved Medicare-for-All, (as proposed by some economists) - President Obama has recently reiterated his earlier boast of willingness to cut Medicare and Social Security. A principal Obama advisor on health care reform, MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber has proposed an echo of Paul Ryan's plan, supporting replacement of traditional Medicare with some form of private insurance.

Most polls track a substantial disconnect between Washington and the majority of people: Sen. Sanders notes that even polls of Tea Party sympathizers oppose cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and support asking the wealthy to pay a fair share of taxes. People sense their limited choices in a corporate-controlled dysfunctional two-party system propped up by corporate media in thrall to the same political money-machine.

Expand the Dialogue, Open Up Presidential Debates

Presidential debates have been restricted since 1987 when the Republican and Democratic Parties took control of the Presidential Debate Commission from the League of Women Voters. Excluding all other candidates, undisclosed agreements between the two-party candidates every four years determine the form and rules of the debates, e.g., the 2004 agreement prohibited candidates from asking each other questions, and permitted only pre-approved audience questions without follow-up.

A number of groups are petitioning to open up presidential debates to all qualified candidates - those who have qualified for ballots in enough states to win the Electoral College and who poll a minimal 1% level of national support, or qualify for federal matching funds. Third-party candidates meeting those standards in 2012 are Jill Stein of the Green Party, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode.

Occupy the Commission on Presidential Debates

Alternative Debate
A presidential debate billed as "A Truly Open Forum for All Candidates," hosted by Free & Equal Elections Foundation:
8:00pm CST at University Club of Chicago in Chicago
Tuesday, October 23, 2012.
Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode and Green Party candidate Jill Stein have confirmed their participation. The Democratic and Republican Party candidates are invited.