Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When Will Obama and Congress Be Honest With the Public

Far to many politicians on both sides of the aisle would rather tell Americans what they think they want to hear as opposed to the honest truth.  Of course on the Republican side of the aisle the situation is compounded by the fact that far too many in the GOP, including many Republican members of Congress, lost touch with objective reality years ago and have been living in a fantasy world ever since.  But that doesn't mean the objective truth isn't the truth.  A piece in the New York Times looks at America's future economic prospects and the reality is that just doing for the most part more of the same is not going to address the urgent problems facing the nation.   Here are some highlights:

[T]he only way to break out of this deadly cycle is with extraordinary leadership. Republicans and Democrats would have to govern in just the opposite way they ran their campaigns — by offering bold plans that not only challenge the other’s base but their own and thereby mobilizes the center, a big majority, behind their agenda, to break the deadlock. If either party does that, not only will it win the day but the country will win as well. 

What would that look like? If the Republican Party had a brain it would give up on its debt-ceiling gambit and announce instead that it wants to open negotiations immediately with President Obama on the basis of his own deficit commission, the Simpson-Bowles plan. That would at least make the G.O.P. a serious opposition party again — with a platform that might actually appeal outside its base and challenge the president in a healthy way. But the G.O.P. would have to embrace the tax reforms and spending cuts in Simpson-Bowles first. Fat chance. And that’s a pity. 

As for Obama, if he really wants to lead, he will have to finally trust the American people with the truth. I’d love to see him use his Jan. 21 Inaugural Address and his Feb. 12 State of the Union Message as a one-two punch to do just that — offer a detailed, honest diagnosis and then a detailed, honest prescription. 

On the diagnosis side, Obama needs to explain to Americans the world in which they’re now living. It’s a world in which the increasing velocity of globalization and the Information Technology revolution are reshaping every job, workplace and industry. As a result, the mantra that if you “just work hard and play by the rules” you should expect a middle-class lifestyle is no longer operable. Today you need to work harder and smarter, learn and re-learn faster and longer to be in the middle class. The high-wage, middle-skilled job is a thing of the past. Today’s high-wage or decent-wage jobs all require higher skills, passion or curiosity. Government’s job is to help provide citizens with as many lifelong learning opportunities as possible to hone such skills. 

In the State of the Union, I’d love to see Obama lay out a detailed plan for tax reform, spending cuts and investments — to meet the real scale of our problem and spur economic growth. We’ll get much more bang for our buck by deciding now what we’re going to do in all three areas, and signaling markets that we are putting in place a truly balanced approach, but gradually phasing it in. If you tell investors and savers that we’re going to put our fiscal house in order with a credible plan, but one that is gradually phased in, all the money now sitting on the sidelines paralyzed by uncertainty will get off the sidelines and we’ll have a real stimulus.
I still believe that America’s rich and the middle classes would pay more taxes and trim entitlements if they thought it was for a plan that was fair, would truly address our long-term fiscal imbalances and set America on a journey of renewal that would ensure our kids have a crack at the American dream.

If only we had a second-term president, unencumbered by ever having to run again, who was ready to test what really bold leadership might produce.
 Sadly, I am not holding my breath.

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