09/02/2013 01:00 pm ET Updated Nov 02, 2013

Labor Day, 2013: Obama Should Simplify Economic Message

President Obama should simplify his economic message. He should talk about what America needs, and that we must pay to do it or Republicans will sit idly by and allow the country to crumble.

With the demise of all right-wing economic mythology (tax-cuts do not pay for themselves, tax-cuts for the wealthy do not create jobs, our debt will not make us like Greece), and the negative impacts the sequester has had on real people (meals-on-wheels for the elderly, furloughed military, food stamps, cancer therapy, just to name a few), the president need no longer develop his economic message around the fairness of shared sacrifice nor concessions to right-wing propaganda as proof of his bona fides.

Instead, on Labor Day and thereafter, the president should send a simple message. America has needs and obligations that private capital has never met. It is the traditional role of government. The wealthy have the ability to pay for it.

They wealthy also derive the greatest benefit in a better future and more robust economy. When the government spent money on highway and airport construction, for example, former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's (R-WI) family business made millions, and, in the process provided roads and airports we could all use to travel.

A government serving 310 million Americans, in which 10,000 people are retiring daily, cannot meet their needs by cutting spending to levels that would serve 250 million people. It is, as President Clinton put it, "arithmetic."

We have tackled the deficit (this year's deficit in constant dollars is the same as the average for the Reagan years*). It will shrink further with growth, and by investing in our needs such as rebuilding crumbling roads, bridges, water and sewer systems; upgrading our electric grid; insulating buildings; modernizing our schools, airports and transportation systems; upgrading education at all levels.

We have only three choices: make those investments and pay for them; or, make those investments and do not pay for them, increasing our debt; or do not make the investments at all and allow America to crumble, and, along with it, the American dream.

The revenues required are not hard to find: collecting offshore tax haven revenues is money actually owed but hidden; a surtax on millionaires paid for the President's American Jobs Act; a 0.5 percent tax on financial transactions redirects money from financial manipulations to actually making something everyone needs, such as a bridge that will not crumble.

This message will not move a single Republican legislator. They will allow the country to crumble rather than have a black man lead its rebuilding.

But, it can move the nation.

It is a simple message: Rise vs. Fall; Grow vs. Crumble; Succeed vs. Fail; Happiness vs. Hardship; Health vs Suffering; Progress vs. Retreat; Up vs. Down; and so forth.

It is also transactional.

If voters in 2014 elect candidates who will invest in our future and pay for it, they will get a rising and prosperous America for themselves and their children. If they choose candidates who will do none of it, they will experience and bequeath to their children a crumbling country.


Republicans have failed theories on how to grow the economy, but no proposals on how to invest in critical economic activities always funded by governments.

So, If not government, who? If not today, when?

(*Reagan's average deficit was $237 billion that today, 30 years later, is $670 billion at current 30-year rates of 3.5 percent).