The public opinion polls swing this way. Then they swing that way. One set of hyper-partisans suffer with each downward tick while the other set celebrates. A day later, the roles reverse as do which set is happy and which set is sad.
The debates are “American Idol” for political wonks. “Winning” is a matter of looking good, sounding “presidential” (whatever that means) and firing off a few snide quips. Are the candidates’ plans actually something that can be accomplished? That question is rarely asked on the cable TV news channels that cover the debates like ESPN covers a college football Saturday. (Hey, maybe next time Lee Corso can predict a winner by donning either a Romney or Obama mask.)
What this campaign needs is a dose of reality. Regardless of who wins on Nov. 6, the nation faces serious long-term challenges. One politician or even one party can’t solve them, and certainly not over the next four years.
I’m not dismissing the whole political process, which is very important. Policies do matter. Next month’s election will go a long way in determining if the United States will fully join the rest of industrialized nations that already offer universal health coverage, for instance. The next president will have a major say in matters of debt, taxes and spending.
Yet, this election season’s bright-line divisions in which both sides speak in partisan absolutes is tiresome. So is the endless chasing of campaign contributions that skew the conversations. The nation needs a dose of reality that extends beyond rooting for either the R’s or the D’s.
A little seriousness, please.
Erskine Bowles is always good for some hard, cold reality. The co-chair of the president’s deficit-reduction commission recently appeared in Atlanta with former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.
According to journalist Maria Saporta’s blog post at saportareport.com, Bowles told the crowd: “Take all the revenues that came into the country last year. Every single bit of it was consumed by our mandatory spending and on the debt. Every dollar we spent last year on these two wars, national security, homeland security, education, infrastructure, housing and research — every single dollar was borrowed, and half was borrowed from foreign countries.”
As if the point needed some sort of exclamation, Bowles added, “This is crazy, and it doesn’t make sense.”
As he did when I heard him speak in Birmingham last year, Bowles said, “This is not a problem that we can grow ourselves out of … and we can’t tax our way out of this problem, and we can’t solely cut our way out of this problem without disrupting what I call a truly fragile economic recovery.”
In a two-week period where Big Bird has been a dominant topic on the campaign trail, Bowles’ warnings shock us back to reality.
My next step on the road to something more than campaign fluff took me to The Economist, the British news magazine that eight years ago summed up the John Kerry vs. George W. Bush matchup as, “The incompetent or the incoherent?”
The Economist’s editors are apparently as tired as I am as the divide where “the left attacks Mitt Romney as a robber baron and the right derides Barack Obama as a class warrior.”
The current issue calls for “True Progressivism,” a rethinking of how nations’ address income inequality.
Within the article is this gem on what it termed “misdirected welfare spending,” “Social spending is often less about helping the poor than giving goodies to the relatively wealthy. In America, the housing subsidy to the richest fifth (through mortgage-interest relief) is four times the amount spent on public housing for the poorest fifth.”
Don’t expect either Obama or Romney to mention that statistic. Might upset those swing state voters, don’t you know.
The article notes, “At the core, there is a failure of ideas.”
Ideas, eh? Those are the very things that seem in such short supply on the campaign trail these days.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.