Tag Archives: Credit

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Rebranding of the President, 2012

Why Is Obama Running on His Record?

“It’s not clear what [President Obama] is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years,” writes David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. “The Democratic convention is his best chance to offer an elevator speech, to define America’s most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it.”

Addressing the DNC Wednesday night, Bill Clinton came as close as any Democrat has this year to answering Brooks: “In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in. I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better.”

Nicely done—though this argument only works for voters stuck in the two-party trap. But the biggest piece is still MIA: Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda for a second term.

Two principal arguments are being advanced in favor of Obama’s reelection: first, that he “took out” Osama bin Laden; second, that we are “absolutely” better off economically than we were four years ago.  These arguments, if they continue to be the Democrats’ main talking points, will lead Obama to defeat this fall.

U.S. history shows that the candidate who presents the most optimistic vision of the future usually prevails. The future he sells doesn’t have to be specific (Romney’s 12 million new jobs, say). Ronald Reagan, who projected vague aw-shucks optimism reflected by a 100%-pabulum campaign slogan, “It’s Morning in America,” defeated Jimmy “Malaise” Carter and Walter “Let’s Tell the Truth About Taxes” Mondale. (Never mind that Carter and Mondale were more honest, smarter and nicer.)

Obama followed the Reagan model in 2008: hope, change, charming smile, not a lot of specifics. And it worked. (It didn’t hurt to run against McCain, the consummate “get off my lawn, you damn kids” grouch.) So why is Obama trading in a proven winner? Why is he running on his first-term record?

Obama’s entourage has obviously talked themselves into believing that the president’s record is better than it really is—certainly better than average voters think it is. Grade inflation is inevitable when you evaluate yourself. (In 2009, at the same time the Fed was greasing the banksters with $7.77 trillion of our money—without a dime devoted to a new WPA-style jobs program—he gave himself a B+.)

First, the extrajudicial assassination of bin Laden, an act of vengeance against a man in hiding who had been officially designated to pose no threat since at least 2006, makes some people queasy. Sure, many voters are happy—but getting even for crimes committed more than a decade ago still doesn’t spell out an optimistic vision for the future.

Similarly, and perhaps more potently since jobs are the most important issue to Americans, claiming that we are better off than we were four years ago, either personally, or nationally, is a dangerous argument for this president to make. Four years ago marks the beginning of a financial crisis that continues today. GDP remains a low 1.7%. Credit remains so tight that it’s still strangling spending.

Four million families lost their homes to foreclosure, millions more were evicted due to nonpayment of rent, and a net 8 million lost their jobs under Obama. Structural unemployment is rising. New jobs are few and pay little.

Most Americans—by a nearly two-to-one margin—feel worse off now than they did four years ago. Coupled with the media’s ludicrous claim that the recovery began in mid-2009, Obama’s “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” (or pocketbook) sales pitch is so insulting and reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s tone-deaf attitude during the 1992 recession that it can only prove counterproductive.

The historical lesson for Obama is 1936. Franklin Roosevelt is the only president in recent history to have won reelection with unemployment over 8%, as it is currently (it was 17%). Why? FDR’s New Deal showed he was trying hard. And things were moving in the right direction (unemployment was 22% when he took office).  Fairly or not, Obama can’t beat Romney pointing to improvement statistics don’t show and people don’t feel.

Obama must articulate a new vision, relaunching and rebranding himself into something completely different—in other words, running as though the last three four years had never happened. Like this was his first term.

New image. New ideas. New policies. New campaign slogan.

Not only does Obama need to float big new ideas, he needs to convince voters that he can get them through a GOP Congress. Not an easy task—but there’s no other way.

It isn’t enough to simply say that Romney will make things worse. Lesser-evil arguments are secondary at best. As things stand now, with people angry and disappointed at government inaction on the economy, Romney’s “Believe in America” meme—though stupid—is more potent than Obama’s reliance on fear of a Ryan budget.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Thrifty Families and Other Lies

Like Their Government, Americans Live on Debt

his State of the Union address President Obama repeated this ancient canard: “We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in,” he said. “That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”

Republicans have used this “families balance their budgets, so should government” line for years. Now Democrats are doing it too. Everyone is jumping aboard the pseudo-austerity bandwagon. (Why pseudo? Neither party really wants to balance the federal budget because it can only be done by bringing home the troops, shrinking the Pentagon by 90 percent, ending corporate welfare, and soaking the rich—i.e. major campaign donors—with higher taxes.)

The family budget talking point is a fascinating meme that reflects a rarely considered national blind spot. As with other cases of mass denial (we think we’re generous do-gooders around the world, foreigners see us for the crazy mean torturers we also are), we give ourselves more credit than we deserve.

We Americans value thrift and personal responsibility. We believe we should live within our means. These cultural ideals stem from our Puritan history.

But we don’t live up to our ideals. Not even close.

Americans are up to the ears in debt.

Four out of five individuals have at least one credit card. The average family has an outstanding balance of $10,700. It spends 21 percent of its monthly income to pay interest on that balance.

The average American family has assets: It owns a house worth $160,000. But it owes $95,000 to the bank. As the housing market continues to crash, equity shrinks.

Our average family’s savings are virtually nonexistent: $3,800 in the bank, no retirement account whatsoever (for half of families, average retirement savings $35,000 for the other half), no mutual funds, no stocks, no bonds.

The claim that American families live within their means is a joke.

To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. The typical American family only earns $43,000. It’s hard to buy much of anything, much less the house that embodies the American Dream, with that. And it’s impossible to save.

So they/we borrow.

As grim as a life of indebted servitude may seem, imagine what the American economy would look like if families really did live within their means, spending no more than they earned. No debt. No credit.

Markets for big-ticket items—homes, automobiles, major appliances—would crash and burn. Countless businesses would go under.

According to the National Association of Realtors 23 percent of homebuyers paid cash in January. That’s more than ever before but that still leaves at least 77 percent relying on mortgage financing. (Why “at least”? Most “cash” transactions include money borrowed from banks and credit unions.) Take 77 percent of purchasers out of the buy side of the equation and million-dollar homes would be worth five figures.

Pop! Credit is the biggest bubble of all.

If credit went away, most Americans’ biggest asset would vanish. Everyone would be “under water” to their lenders. The burbs would soon look like Afghanistan.

The same goes for cars: At least 88 percent of buyers take out a loan.

What would happen if these buyers had to save actual cash money before they could hit the showroom? They wouldn’t buy a car. Air would get cleaner but the economic collapse that began in 2008, which has put one out of five Americans out of work, would accelerate dramatically.

Two-thirds of the U.S. economy directly relies on consumer spending. People can only purchase goods and services using one of three sources: income, savings or credit. As we’ve seen, the average American family doesn’t have savings. Its income has been falling since 1968.

That leaves credit. If consumer credit vanished, the corporato-capitalist system currently prevailing in the U.S. would deteriorate from its current, merely unsustainable form into total chaos. Without credit cards and other loans citizens would seethe, trapped between the mutually irreconcilable forces of falling wages and the aggressive advertising and marketing of products they would never be able to afford. There would only be two possible long-term outcomes: revolution, or the ruling classes would be forced to pay substantially higher wages to workers. To corporate elites, the latter choice would be too unpalatable to countenance.

The typical American family cannot live within its means because it cannot earn enough to sustain its lifestyle. Were it to downgrade its living standards to a level it could afford, there wouldn’t be enough consumer spending to drive the economy. This would force further personal austerity. Eventually we’d all be living outside.

You know what’s funny? Unlike the American family, the U.S. government can spend less than it earns. It can increase revenues by raising taxes. Unlike families, it spends trillions of dollars on stuff—wars—that it doesn’t need and actually makes things worse.

It could even use its power to force employers to pay workers what they deserve. If the government did that, families might not need credit.

They could (finally) live within their means.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL