Perhaps you've moved on from the midterm elections. I'm still stuck on a reader's response to what I wrote last week, when I blamed Democratic losses on a muddy message and candidates who leave us wondering whether they even know what's happening with the economy.
The simple Republican message is that they won't spend "your money" on "those people," I said. The challenge for Democrats is convincing us that, "if government helps those in need, the economy will expand and almost everybody will be better off."
To which an irritated "jkeee" responded: "Government helps those in need = higher taxes, more waste and corruption [and] more dependence on the gov. check, more sitting around eating chips and drinking beer. That's what I see with my own eyes in the neighborhood where I live. I do not see the people who vote Democratic doing anything to expand the economy. Well, OK, I guess the snack food and beer companies profit."
She/he concluded: "This is very costly to all of us. I just do not understand how you can say this makes almost everyone better off."
Thank you, jkeee. I'm glad you asked.
First, I want to say this question wasn't asked much when I was growing up. My parents were children of the Great Depression. They saw how Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, in the 1930s, gave money to the needy (primarily with the creation of Social Security) and lifted the jobless from destitution with public works projects. In the '40s, World War II was a giant public employment program. When it ended, the G.I. Bill paid for returning soldiers to attend college and buy houses.
And it was all financed by government debt. The money borrowed wasn't taken from the economy, though. It was added to it. "Priming the pump," we called it. The money spent by government went into people's pockets, and when they got it they spent it, and the people they paid it to spent it, and everyone paid taxes, so government had more money than when it started. Tax rates, except on the very rich, went down.
These government programs weren't costly, jkeee. Rather, they paved the way for this nation's greatest period of growth. Paved is a segue to President Eisenhower's decision to spend massively for an interstate highway system, which created even more jobs while making the economy work more efficiently.
Eisenhower was a Republican, Roosevelt a Democrat, but both understood how providing people with jobs and opportunity helped the country. Eisenhower, a World War II general, also knew that "those people" jkeee sees, if given a chance and some training, make good soldiers and—most of them—productive citizens.
But jkeee's question reminds me that, since Ronald Reagan, American voters have been fed propaganda about how anything the government does is inherently wasteful. This message is paid for by corporations and libertarian billionaires who'd rather not pay any taxes—and note that when I said last week that almost everybody would be better off, I know the ultra-rich won't be.
Anyway, what cranks me off is not this libertarian nonsense or even that it's become Republican orthodoxy. It's that Democrats from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton to Barack Obama have given it credence, offering "grand bargains" and budget cuts instead of calling it out.
By their eagerness to sort-of agree with the rich, the Democrats have squandered the loyalty of so many working people—and people who need work—that they are no longer the majority party in the country. Nor do they fulfill the fundamental obligation of a party, which is to present a platform they can explain and voters can depend on.
That's why I think what the Democrats need in 2016—what they needed this year, but it's too late—is a TED talk on the economy.
TED, of course, is short for technology, entertainment and design. It's a brand name for multimedia presentations that are eye-catching, provocative and above all clear and convincing about a central idea.
The ideal person to present a Democratic TED talk is Hillary Clinton, since she expects to be crowned the party's presidential nominee without objection. Giving it could lay to rest her reputation for mushy posturing and, if she says what she should, for being a tool of Wall Street.
At any rate, she'll need to be clear about the central idea, which is that government must help workers in our economy because if it doesn't, we're all screwed.
TED FOR DEMS
Slide 2: Working people are slipping farther behind every year, and when recessions come, they get hammered.
Slide 3: The very richest people—the 1/10th of the 1 percent whose net worth is from $20 million to more than $100 billion—should pay much more in taxes.
Slide 4: When they do, we can afford better schools and tuition-free universities so everyone who wants to work is prepared for work.
Slide 5: Government investments in high-speed internet, public transit and rail-freight corridors will yield more jobs and a more competitive economy.
Slide 6: Ditto investments in renewable energy and a new power grid—plus, the planet needs them.
Slide 7: With unemployment way down, wages will go up. But just to be sure, let's raise the minimum wage—a lot.
Slide 8: Bottom line: If government does what it should, almost everyone will save money on utilities, transportation, communications and taxes. Yes, almost everyone's taxes should go down.
All with snappy graphics and camera work, naturally. And show it a lot. Make it go viral.
How many worthless negative ads did you see in the recent "campaign"? Imagine if the Democrats had paid for an uplifting message instead.
This article appeared in print with the headline, "Hillary, get the power point ready."