The first Obama-Romney presidential debate demonstrated that even in prime time, before an audience of 60 million people, and for the most exalted position on earth, our political process is shamefully deceitful. Neither candidate is being forthright and honest about the problems plaguing this nation and what either man can actually do to address those problems. Neither man respects the voters enough to be truthful with them nor trusts them enough to accept the truth without their rejecting the man who speaks it.
The candidates are not entirely to blame for this sorry situation, the citizenry cultivates it. Americans have, somehow, come to believe that a U.S. president has miraculous powers over the economy. But, no one has such powers, no matter what exalted position he or she occupies. The economy, especially now that it is globalized, is about as controllable and predictable as the weather.
Yet, both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, as well as nearly every candidate for state or federal office this election, now claims to be a “job creator” who will have all Americans back to work and once again ascending the economic latter to middle-class nirvana. Romney assures us that he will create 12 million new, well-paying jobs, while Obama claims he has already created or saved millions of jobs and will do even more during a second term to restore economic vitality. Yes, they just wave the presidential scepter, borrowed from Cinderella’s fairy godmother, and presto, new high-paying jobs appear in a roaring economy that melts away the iceberg of national debt careering toward the ship of state.
No politician has ever had a magic wand. All the emergency legislation, political maneuverings and stimulus programs initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not revive the U.S. economy and end the Great Depression. World War II did that by snapping demoralized Americans out of their self-doubt and galvanizing them to meet an imminent threat to national survival.
All the tax cuts, deregulation, and trickle down economic theory, aka “voodoo economics”, introduced by President Ronald Reagan and the Bushes — George H.W. and his son, George W. — did not work to avoid the Great Recession nor are they working to revive the current flickering U.S. economy.
But, because anxiety-ridden Americans want to believe in magic wands, politicians play along with the fairy tales. So, while both Obama and Romney engage in slippery sophistries, deceptive data and practiced prevarications about which one has the magic wand, they do so mostly because that is what many Americans want to hear — that a wave of the wand will make everything alright again.
A real leader would tell Americans what they need to hear; that there are no magic wands, no painless panaceas for a nation that is dangerously in debt from overspending on empire and on subsidies for standards of living that it cannot afford. That the economy is vastly atmospheric, affected by the breezes of billions of individual choices and the global gales of unpredictable events, disruptions and discoveries. No president or potentate can overrule those.
For objective honesty to prevail in our political process would require a population of critical thinkers who would not only be receptive to truth but would also demand it. Critical thinking, however, is a learned skill that apparently our education system is failing to teach many of our people. Instead of thinkers we have a nation of believers willing to succumb to political fantasies as readily as it does religious fantasies.
Avoiding economic collapse and restoring robust economic conditions will require sacrifice by all Americans, perhaps similar to what the nation experienced in World War II. But, first it will require facing the truth about our situation.
The nation is now more than $16 trillion in debt, which at the current reckless rate of borrowing will become $26 trillion by 2021. That would be equal to more than 100 percent of the nation’s annual GDP. The 2012 federal budget shows receipts of $2.5 trillion, and expenditures of $3.8 trillion. Of the expenditures, entitlements, mostly Social Security and Medicare, account for $2.3 trillion and interest on the debt is $225 billion. Defense costs $838 billion while all other operating expenses are $462 billion. So, even if we eliminated all of defense and operating expenses, we would still have insufficient revenues to cover entitlements and interest.
Real leaders would tell us this and what must be done about it. Taxes must go up substantially and entitlements must be significantly reduced. Everyone along the economic food chain will need to feel the pain. The rich will have to pay much higher taxes while the recipients of entitlements will have to get by with much lower benefits.
Believing that any president or politician can magically grow the economy fast enough and large enough to avoid the pain of balanced budgets and settling up on the debt is as delusional as believing pumpkins can be converted to carriages by the wave of a wand.