Members of Generation X have almost no retirement savings whatsoever. They don’t have defined benefit retirement packages. 401(k) savings programs are a joke. If they’re counting on Social Security, forget it. Political pressure to get rid of the program will certainly screw them before they get to collect it. And anyway, Social Security itself claims that it will be bankrupt in less than 20 years.
In Douglas Coupland’s 1991 age-warfare classic novel “Generation X” a young man trashes a car because it bears a bumpersticker with the obnoxious slogan “I’m spending my children’s inheritance.” Like Coupland I launched my career as something like a spokesperson for Generation X, raging on behalf of a demographic cohort perpetually struggling to make itself and its concerns heard in the wake of the older, bigger and wealthier Baby Boom generation. Culturally marginalized by the Boomers, forced to accept transient employment, hobbled by growing student loan debt and buffeted by recessions, Xers feared that they would never be able to save enough in order to retire, much less spend their kids’ inheritance.
The retirement crisis will be worse than we ever feared.
“We predict the U.S. will soon be facing rates of elder poverty unseen since the Great Depression,” New School economist Teresa Ghilarducci and Blackstone executive vice chairman Tony James write in the Harvard Business Review.
Sayonara, Kurt Cobain. Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire.
Retirement specialists from the political left and right concur: big segments of whole generations of the elderly will soon be impoverished, some homeless or even starving. After the Xers, the Millennial deluge; old age looks even bleaker for today’s young adults.
Experts vary on how much you should have saved by the time you retire. Fidelity advises a $75,000-a-year worker who retires at age 67 to squirrel away at least $600,000 in present-day dollars. Following the traditional rule of having 80% of your salary for 20 years pushes that desired minimum to $1.2 million.
The problem is, the average savings of 55- to 64-year-olds is a piddling $104,000. According to a 2015 study of people 55 and older by the General Accounting Office, 29% have nothing whatsover.
It’s a joke, but it’s not funny. Yet neither political party has much to say about the looming retirement crisis.
The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s. Political and business leaders are in denial about this issue. But the desperation of our grandparents and parents — not to mention the children charged with caring for them since they won’t be able to provide for themselves —will make voters vulnerable to demagoguery of all stripes. Instability will be rampant. Democracy could be in danger.
It isn’t hard to see how we got here.
Old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by defined-contribution benefit plans like IRAs and 401(k)s which are problematic for many workers. People don’t contribute enough. Employers pitch in less than they did to pensions, or nothing at all. When workers suffer a setback like a job loss, they borrow against their accounts. They make poor investment decisions. When the stock market suffers a downturn, accounts lose value. High administrative costs suck away returns. The average 401(k) has never been bigger — but still, we’re talking total savings of $104,000.
Try living on that for 20 or 30 years.
Baby Boomers enjoyed the last vestige of an economy where you might hold one or two jobs throughout your most of your working career. They grew up in two-parent households and enjoyed the fruits of the postwar boom.
By contrast, many Generation Xers and younger Millennials have divorced parents, which reduced their financial security. Gen Xers got slammed by the 1987 stock market crash as well as the 2000 dot-com collapse; both Xers and Millennials lost jobs and savings during the 2008-09 Great Recession. They work in the gig economy. Younger workers might not have to drive for Uber or rent out a room on Airbnb but their work lives are highly mobile and frequently disrupted. They get laid off and outsourced. They must go back to school or move to adjust to employers’ demands. Their real and net incomes are significantly lower than the Boomers’ and their savings rate reflects that.
Paying average monthly benefits of just over $1300, Social Security is a supplementary, not a primary retirement plan. Even if they’re content to live modestly, cash-poor Xers have a gaping wound for which Social Security is a Band-Aid.
Although many older people enjoy working, too many cannot. A record 19% of Americans over age 65 currently work at least part-time; of course, that means that 81% do not. Older people are prone to failing health. And it’s hard to find someone to hire them.
The older you are, the more likely you are to fall prey to age discrimination. Companies are also motivated by simple economics, cutting costs by firing older workers and replacing them with younger ones.
Hillary Clinton ignored the distress of downsized working-class whites in flyover country to her own, and her party’s peril. Donald Trump won his surprise victory partly because he acknowledged the rage of Rust Belters long neglected by both parties. The outcome might have been different had Democrats maintained their traditional 20th century focus on labor and the Midwest by promoting job-retraining programs and other attempts to get industrial workers back on their feet.
Now we’re looking at a problem as big as deindustrialization. If one of the two major parties is able to get ahead of the coming retirement crisis by putting forth some meaningful solutions now, before dystopia arrives, they will reap the benefits at the polls. Conservatives may want to support GRAs (Guaranteed Retirement Accounts) in which workers are required to withhold a portion of each paycheck in order to invest for their retirement. Liberals may prefer shoring up the Social Security system in order to increase monthly payouts.
Or we can do nothing as we marvel at the sight of our grandparents fighting over Dumpster scraps.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Forget terrorism, Ebola or even climate change — the most dangerous threat to this country is an epic retirement crisis.
We will soon see tens of millions of Americans reduced to poverty, bringing an end to the United States as an economic superpower.
Unlike attacks and pandemics, this crisis is an absolute certainty, one with a clear, near start date. But the media is hardly mentioning the imminent retirement crisis. So politicians haven’t even begun to think about it, much less take it seriously.
Actually, “retirement crisis” is a misnomer. The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to retire or will be living on a shoestring, though those things are true. We’re staring down the barrel of an epic old age crisis. For the average American, to be elderly will mean not mere belt-tightening, but real, grinding poverty: homelessness and hunger.
Throughout the last few decades, vulnerable people living from payday to payday have gotten battered by the shredding of the government safety net, a lack of accumulated savings caused by the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, and a lackluster real estate market.
Now members of the poor and lower middle class in their 50s and 60s are heading into a retirement crisis created by a perfect superstorm.
Traditional defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by stingy 401(k)s and similar programs which employers no longer pay into, cap how much you can contribute (assuming you can afford it), take a beating during downturns in the stock market, and allow workers to tap when they’re laid off or run into financial trouble. After years of sketchy raids and outright theft, workers with old-fashioned corporate and government pensions can’t be sure their money will be there when they need it. The first Generation Xers — many of whom never had the opportunity to accumulate wealth due to several long recessions that impacted them particularly hard — will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the year 2024.
The facts are brutal:
No savings: The average Gen Xer only has a net worth of about $40,000 — enough to live on for a year. Maybe. In Akron. 36% of Americans don’t have a dime saved for retirement.
Later Social Security: Thanks to that lovable wacky Ronald Reagan, the Social Security retirement age was quietly raised to 67 for Gen Xers born after 1960. When you finally get Social Security, it doesn’t pay enough. The U.S. ranks third to last in social security benefits among developed nations.
Age discrimination: The continuing post-2008 recession hit those in their 50s especially hard; employers want cheaper, younger workers. 25% of Americans over age 55 now have no savings whatsoever.
About those pension plans: When journalists mention the retirement crisis, they focus on problems with the defined-benefit system. But that’s irrelevant to most Americans. 90% of private-sector workers don’t have one. Most government workers do — but 85% of Americans work in the private sector.
401ks suck (if you have one). Three out of four workers have no pension plan. What they might have is a 401k. The average Gen Xer who has a 401k — 69% don’t — has a $63,000 balance.
Financial experts say 92% of U.S. workers fall significantly short of what they’ll need to live decently after retirement. “In the decades to come,” Edward Siedle writes for Forbes, “we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the ‘new normal’ for many elderly Americans.”
This is about you — not some theoretical lazy Other.
“At some point,” Siedle says, “lack of savings, lack of employment possibilities and failing health will catch up with the overwhelming majority of the nation’s elders. Let me emphasize that we’re talking about the overwhelming majority, not a small percentage who arguably made bad decisions throughout their working lives.” [Emphasis is mine.]
America’s army of starving old people will drag down younger people too. “Public finances will be pushed to the limit, crowding out other priorities such as education,” Christian E. Weller predicts in The Hill. “Moreover, economic growth will be slower than it otherwise would be because employers will have more workers whose productivity is declining, while many older families, who could start successful new businesses, will forego those opportunities.”
And the pols?
Useless, Siedle concludes. “Conservatives are trying to pare back so-called entitlements that will mushroom in the near future and liberals have failed to acknowledge the crisis or propose any solutions.”
We can hit the streets to demand action now — or we’ll be living on them later.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
I’ve been disappeared.
Erased from history.
Dropped down the memory hole.
If you were born between 1961 and 1976, you no longer exist.
Generation X has been disappeared.
The Soviets altered photos to excise the images of leaders who had fallen out of favor, but communist censors went after individuals.
America’s corporate media is more ambitious. They’re turning 50 million people into unpersons.
The disappearing of Gen X began about a year ago, when major news outlets began reducing living Americans to two generations: the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1960) and their children, the Millennials (born approximately 1977-2004).
(Generational birth years are controversial. Many classify the Boom years between 1946 and 1964, but I agree with the demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe’s assessment — and the novelist Douglas Coupland, who defined the term “Generation X” — that people like me, born from ’61 to ’64, called “the most dysfunctional cohort of the century,” identify with the culture and economic fortunes of Xers, not the Boom.)
The unpersoning of X takes full bloom in “Wooing a New Generation of Museum Patrons,” a March 19, 2014 piece in The New York Times about how museums like the Guggenheim are soliciting money from “a select group of young donors already contributing at a high level.”
Take your gum/joint/food out of your mouth before reading further, lest you gag: “Several hundred Millennials mingled under the soaring atrium of the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue one recent frigid February night. Weaving around them were black-clad servers bearing silver trays piled high with doughnuts, while a pixieish D.J. spun Daft Punk remixes.”
According to the Times‘ David Gelles (playing the role of Winston Smith): “Across the country, museums large and small are preparing for the eventual passing of the baton from the Baby Boom generation, which for decades has been the lifeblood not only of individual giving but of boardroom leadership. Yet it is far from clear whether the children of Baby Boomers are prepared to replicate the efforts of their parents.”
Gelles’ piece doesn’t contain any reference to Generation X.
Really? Museums don’t give a crap about would-be philanthropists among the millionaires born between 1961 and 1976?
By the way, Xers were into Daft Punk before Millennials were even done being born.
Boomer/Millennial articles that ignore the existence of Xers have become commonplace. Again in The New York Times, Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker perform the neat trick of disappearing one-sixth of the country. Their November 30, 2013 op/ed about “Millennial Searchers” for the meaning of life asks about Millennials: “Do we have a lost generation on our hands?”
Substitute “1991” for “2008” and everything Smith and Aaker write could be, and was written about Gen X: “Yet since the Great Recession of 2008, they have been having a hard time. They are facing one of the worst job markets in decades. They are in debt. Many of them are unemployed. The income gap between old and young Americans is widening.”
Even in an essay about humanity’s search for meaning — and about the downward mobility that defines Gen X — there is only room for Boomers and Millennials.
It’s like our crappy economy and low wages and student loan debt never even happened.
“No one’s talkin’ ’bout my generation,” notes columnist M.J. Fine, a Generation Xer. “It’s hard to think of an era in which people ages 34-49 had less social currency.”
Remember the great coming clash over Social Security between Boomers and Xers? We’ve vanished from that narrative too, not just in a thousand words but over the course of a full-length book: “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.”
It’s not just The Times. In Sonya Stinson’s frivolous “What Gen Y Can Teach Boomers About Financial Planning” in Forbes, Gen X neither learns nor teaches. Gen X doesn’t exist.
I saved the worst for last. Courtesy of a sharp-eyed reader, check out PBS’ Judy Woodruff, defining the generations for a NewsHour interview with the author of “The Next America”:
In PBS World, Gen X has shrunk. If you’re in your forties, you no longer have a generational home.
Life begins at 40?
More like the empty void of generational purgatory, as far as the Boomer-controlled media is concerned.
(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
A little noticed aspect of the fiscal cliff deal between congressional Republicans and the White House involved the establishment of a new way to calculate the federal inflation rate. Now we will have the so-called “chained consumer price index.” The chained CPI literally assumes that, as products increase in price, we don’t have to actually counts them as having increased in price because consumers can replace those more expensive items with cheaper substitutes. This allows the government to claim that inflation is lower or nonexistent, thus denying recipients of Social Security and other federal entitlement programs their right to a cost of living increase.
Six Weeks After Reelection, Obama Sells Out Liberal Democrats
After the election Kerry Eleveld wrote a piece for The Atlantic titled “Why Barack Obama Will Be a More Effective Liberal in His Second Term.”
“In response to their initial disappointment with the president’s early performance, many progressives speculated that Obama was just waiting for a second term to be more liberal,” he said. That was true. They were.
Eleveld continued: “A more likely explanation is that Obama was still finding his groove, figuring out which levers worked best for him in the context of governing the nation. And in some ways, he was still developing the courage of his convictions.”
That, it turns out, was false. He wasn’t.
You can’t develop convictions that you don’t have in the first place.
It’s hard to remember now, more than six weeks later, but there was once a time (six long weeks ago) when liberal Democrats who naïvely chose to ignore Obama’s consistently conservative first term, his consistently conservative career in the Senate, and his consistently conservative pre-politics career as a University of Chicago law professor, seriously believed that his reelection would lead to a progressive second term.
“It’s time for President Obama to assume the Roosevelt-inspired mantle of muscular liberalism,” Anthony Woods wrote in The Daily Beast. “This is his moment. He only has to take it.”
It’s his moment, all right. And he’s taking it. But when it comes to Obama, liberals are once again guilty of some major wishful thinking. Obama’s economic policies are closer to Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt.
“With re-election safely behind him, we hope Obama will be bolder in his second term,” Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen wrote in The Nation.
Again with the Hope!
Change, not so much.
Race doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. Style doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters when you’re electing a politician: policy. And the willingness and ability to carry it out. Everything you needed to know about Barack Obama boils down to the fact that he voted nine times out of ten to fund the Iraq war, at the same time that he was giving speech after speech pretending to oppose it. And that was before he won in 2008.
It didn’t take long for Obama to sell out the liberal base of his party the first time. Everything became clear in December 2008, when his cabinet picks didn’t include a single liberal. Well, here it is, December 2012, and can’t get fooled again but we did, as George W. Bush would sorta say.
Wait a minute: I thought Obama was a Democrat. So why is he appointing a Republican as secretary of defense? Not just a Republican, but a homophobe? In 1998 Republican Senator Chuck Hagel criticized President Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to the sensitive strategic hotbed of Luxembourg not only for being gay, but for being “openly, aggressively gay.” Gay rights groups demanded that Hagel “repudiate” his bigoted comments, and he dutifully did so, but the point is that a truly progressive Democratic president would never have appointed a gay-bashing right-wing Republican in the first place. Yeah, America has changed, but it wouldn’t be that hard to find a liberal Democrat who thought gays and lesbians were real human beings back in 1998.
The “fiscal cliff” negotiations have led to another replay of Obama’s 2008 sellout, this one on economic fairness. Throughout the 2012 campaign the president promised to raise taxes on the top 2% of American households, those earning over $250,000 a year. As of November 9th he was still “sticking to his guns,” calling his stance nonnegotiable. On December 17th, however, without the defeated Republicans even having to propose a counteroffer, Obama pulled a classic Democratic negotiating-against-himself maneuver. Not only did he offer House Speaker John Boehner to protect the spectacularly wealthy taxpayers who earn up to $400,000 from a tax hike, he quietly sold out senior citizens by gutting the current system that calculates cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other federal entitlement programs.
At first, few people would notice Obama’s switch to a so-called “chained consumer price index.” (Under the new system, if the price of steak goes up, the government assumes you’ll switch to hamburger—so it doesn’t count as inflation.) This year, for example, the inflation rate under the chained CPI is 0.3% less. But inflation is exponential and the effect is cumulative. By the time you hit age 92, you’d lose an entire month of Social Security benefits each year.
This, remember, was the president who was supposed to bust out as an FDR-style crusading liberal ready, willing and able to fight the right-wing Republicans and stand up for ordinary Americans.
The good news is, the anticipation is over. Liberals who worried that Obama would sell them out need worry no more. Not so deep down, they knew this would happen. Now they can settle down for four more years of depressing Republican-lite kowtowing to corporations and the one percent.
I know what they’re thinking. Things would be even worse if Mitt Romney had won.
I wouldn’t be so sure.
Policy-wise, a Romney administration would have been pretty much the same as Obama’s second term. Who knows, he might have picked Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary.
In terms of building the political Left, a President Romney would have galvanized liberals and progressives to fight for a fairer society that treats everyone equally and with dignity. Obama, his sellouts, and his faux liberal apologists represent two steps backwards for progressivism.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
Democrats and Republicans both want to reduce the deficit using an accounting gimmick called “Chained CPI.” Under the Chained Consumer Price Index, increases in prices of products are ignored. Instead, it is assumed that consumers downgrade their purchases to cheaper products when prices for those they currently buy increase to the point that they can no longer afford them. Then the government uses these phony calculations to justify smaller cost of living increases to recipients of Social Security and other beneficiaries of programs indexed to inflation.
If Romney Loses, Blame His Running Mate
Unless something surprising and dramatic happens, Obama will win the election. Earlier this week the Associated Press released an analysis of public and private polls that put “within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term.” Obama is running ahead in many major swing states, including Ohio—a necessity for a GOP candidate to win. Yeah, yeah, this week’s presidential debates could make a difference—but they rarely do.
What went wrong with the Romney campaign? (Insert the usual fat-lady-not-over-blah-blah-anything-could-happen disclaimer here.)
All things being equal, this should have been a cakewalk for Romney—or any half-decent Republican. The economy is still awful. The official unemployment rate is over 8%, a magic number that historically kills reelection campaigns. Since Obama hasn’t promised any big jobs programs, neither Hope nor Change is on offer. And Romney has/had a sales pitch tailored for hard times: he turned around companies; his business experience will/would help him turn around the U.S. economy.
This election is/was Romney’s to lose—and apparently he has. The cause can be summed up in two words: Paul Ryan.
Sure, there were plenty of other missteps. His bizarre “47%” remark turned out to be a game changer that alienated swing voters. Like the (unfair) story about how George H.W. Bush was so out of touch that he’d never seen a supermarket price scanner (no wonder that preppy pipsqueak didn’t care about Americans who’d lost jobs under the 1987-1992 recession), Romney’s 47% slag fit neatly with our overall impression that Romney is a heartless automaton of a CEO who doesn’t feel our pain. Worse, he’s a man with something to hide; his refusal to release his taxes proves it.
Though greeted by Very Serious pundits as a canny combination of intellectual heft and Tea Party cred, the selection of running mate Paul Ryan has been a bigger disaster than Sarah Palin in 2008. (To be fair to John Cain, Palin was a Hail Mary pass by a campaign that was way behind.) As Paul Krugman pointed out in the New York Times, the selection is beginning to shape up as a “referendum” on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy.”
Which is Ryan’s fault.
Before the veep announcement, the campaign was a referendum on Obama’s stewardship over the economy. Which was good for Romney. Since August it has been about Paul Ryan, known for his plan to trash reform entitlement programs. Misfire! The one time you don’t attack the safety net is when people are feeling squeezed and pessimistic about the future.
Sensing resistance, Republicans walked back Ryan’s extreme agenda using the classic “divide and conquer” approach, guaranteeing that people over 55 would keep their Medicare and Social Security. No sale. Romney-Ryan forgot something: senior citizens have children and grandchildren. Older Americans want younger people to enjoy the same benefits they’re getting now. Many senior citizens no doubt see the slippery slope of austerity: taking away Social Security for people under 55 next leads to going after those over 55. Finally, with the U.S. Treasury squandering trillions of dollars on wars, it’s hard to argue that the sick and old ought to resort to Dumpster-diving.
The Romney–Ryan campaign understood that voters were pissed at Obama. But they didn’t understand why.
There were two types of anger against Obama. Mostly prompted by Obamacare, right-wingers hate the president for growing an intrusive federal government. But there is also liberal resentment—shared by many moderates—at Obama’s refusal to help the jobless and foreclosure victims. Lefties also dislike Obamacare—but because, minus a public option, it’s a sellout to the insurance conglomerates. Romney could have seduced these voters with his own plans to help the sick and poor. Instead, he went with Ryan—who would destroy programs that are already too weak—and frightened disgruntled Democrats back into Obama’s camp.
Romney ignored the time-tested tactic of moving to the center after winning your party’s nomination. Romney repackaged himself as a right-winger to win the GOP nomination. In the general election, he needed to appeal to Democrats and swing voters. Choosing Paul Ryan sent the opposite signal.
This is not to say that President Obama will have an easy second term. Unlike 2008, when the vast majority of Americans felt satisfied that they had made the right choice, Obama is only likeable enough (the words he used to describe Hillary Clinton) compared to Romney. The only reason Obama seems headed to victory this November is that he was lucky enough to run against one of the most staggeringly inept campaigns in memory, headed by an unbelievably tone-deaf plutocrat.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
The Second-Term Curse Belies Obama’s Optimistic Vision
Breaking news: Obama willing to compromise!
Everybody (<—translation: media types) is talking about an interview in which the President makes his case for reelection. A second term, he argues, would end the current gridlock between the Democratic White House and Republican Congress, leading to some sort of grand bargain–or at least a deal–that would improve the crappy economy.
Here’s the money quote:
“What I’m offering the American people is a balanced approach that the majority agrees with, including a lot of Republicans. And for me to be able to say to the Republicans, the election is over; you no longer need to be focused on trying to beat me; what you need to be focused on and what you should have been focused on from the start is how do we advance the American economy. I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises, some of which I get criticized from the Democratic Party on, in order to make progress.”
Liberal commentators scoffed (though more in sorrow than in anger), pointing out that Republicans who blocked Obama’s slightly-left-of-Milton-Friedman agenda throughout his first term aren’t going more likely to compromise during his lame-duck second term. Furthermore, Obama is wrong about GOP tactics changing once he hits his constitutional term limit. Nasty–and effective–attack ads aside, it really isn’t personal for them. Republican strategists will work to defeat whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 just as hard as they schemed to stymie Obama. Which is, of course, exactly what an opposition party should be expected to do.
Unless they’re Democrats. But I digress.
I couldn’t help noticing two remarkable aspects to Obama’s statement:
First, it tacitly admits that he didn’t get much done on jobs, unemployment and the economy–the issue that has consistently ranked as the voters’ top concern the entire time he’s been president. This is a dangerous gambit. Blaming the other party for leaving a mess and for obstructionism has a poor record of electoral success, particularly on the economy; fair or not, voters tend to hold sitting presidents responsible for the state of their wallets.
Second, it asks us to assume that a president’s second term is an opportunity. In fact, history suggests anything but. The vast majority of the signature legislative and policy achievements by U.S. presidents occurred at the beginning of their first terms: FDR’s first 100 days, LBJ’s civil rights act and his war on poverty, Reagan’s partial dismantling of the aforementioned social safety net. Though slow out of the gate, George W. Bush got a reset in the form of 9/11, which he used to push through all sorts of mayhem: the Patriot Act, legalized torture, and a pair of ridiculous optional wars.
The record of non-achievement of second terms is so grim that you have to wonder why presidents ever run for reelection. Whether you look at Richard Nixon, who won a record 1972 landslide only to resign two years later, or Bill Clinton’s second term, when he was caught in the mire of the Travelgate and Monica Lewinsky scandals, or Ronald Reagan’s second term, which was dominated by Iran-Contra and hobbled by the early onset of Alzheimer’s, it is hard to think a president who got much done during his second term. Look at George W. Bush’s number two: he wanted to privatize Social Security and expand the GOP into a permanent majority party; instead, his popularity sank like a stone.
Why do these guys want a do-over so badly? Must be the free food and rent.
Whether Obama is aware of presidential history or just blowing smoke, you shouldn’t expect much from a second term. If you’re voting for Obama simply to keep Romney out–to deny him a chance to get anything done–that’s fine. But don’t expect Obama to get a liberal agenda–assuming he ever wanted one–through Congress. That ship sailed after the 2010 midterm elections.
Or a grand bargain. That boat was never built.
There are a couple of things Obama could do to mitigate the second-term curse. He could take his case directly to the American people, asking the citizens to pressure the Republican-dominated Congress to push through popular agenda items like forcing banks to write down principal on homes that have lost value since the burst of the housing bubble, tax subsidies for college tuition, and extending benefits to the majority of unemployed Americans, who no longer receive any. Democrats have forgotten this approach: Obama has failed to rally his supporters, Bill Clinton, another man who put too much faith inside the Beltway, had the same failing.
Another way Obama and the Democrats could make the most of a second term would be to replicate what the Republicans did with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America, in other words, to state a list of policies and new laws that voters would effectively be endorsing if Obama wins. After November, Democrats would then be able to argue that they have a direct mandate for their agenda.
(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