It was political strategist James Carville who coined the now-famous phrase that helped catapult Bill Clinton to the presidency, incessantly reminding him that, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Any candidate seeking to unseat President Obama in the 2012 elections will surely follow this same strategy.
After all, the economy is in shambles and Americans are fed up with the latest congressional efforts to reduce the deficit. Unemployment is nearing epidemic proportions, gasoline prices are outrageous, spending is out of control, and for the first time, our national credit rating has been downgraded. Worse still, if foreign money was pulled out of our economy, we would have a massive, coast to coast collapse.
Political pundits commonly warn candidates, especially Republican candidates, that voters today are not as concerned with social and moral issues as much as they are concerned with the economy. In that respect, Carville’s sage advice to Clinton is nothing new. After all, Hebert Hoover’s 1928 campaign slogan was, “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Has anything really changed since 1928 in terms of what Americans care about the most?
Surely, it still is “the economy, stupid.” Or is it? Could it be that there’s more to the story? Could it be that we make a serious and fundamental mistake when we separate economic issues from moral issues? Could it be that we are often treating the symptoms rather than the cause? There was bipartisan disgust as the nation watched the president and both political parties wrangling over a solution to the current financial crisis, and in the end, all we got was a very small, largely ineffective band aid. As one political cartoonist depicted it, the congressional “solution” was like slowing down the speed with which the Titanic was sinking.
Across party lines, there was a feeling that we were not really getting to the root of the problem, but few, if any were suggesting that it is impossible to separate economics from morality. Eventually, our moral choices will have a definite and direct impact on the money (or lack thereof) in our pockets.
A successful businessman recently suggested to me that some of the roots of our economic problems include:
1) Instant gratification. It was Jim Morrison of the Doors who once proclaimed, “We want the world and we want it now!” That was 1967. Today, we really want it now (as in “instant”; think “messaging” and “downloading” and more). If I want it, I will find a way to get it, and I will get it now. Yes, it’s true that I’m out of work, but I will get that iPad, I will be at the movie theatre this weekend, and I will find a way to buy the latest, trendy threads. Thank God for credit cards!
2) We have become consumers rather than producers. One website claims that, “Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as 2 Japanese, 6 Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians, 370 Ethiopians.” And, “Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily, enough to feed 3 third world countries.” Of course, some of this has to do with the fact that we have a lot more at our disposal than, say, the average Ethiopian. But a lot of this also has to do with our selfishness, greed, and lack of discipline. Do our political leaders dare address those issues?
3) The breakdown of the family. Two generations into the sexual revolution (which has brought us to the point of sexual anarchy), and two generations into no-fault divorce, the “traditional family unit” is an increasingly threatened species, and at a high economic cost to our society. Author Frank Turek points out that kids raised by their mom and dad are: “a. Seven times less likely to live in poverty; b. Six times less likely to commit suicide; c. Less than half as likely to commit crime; d. Less than half as likely to become pregnant out of wedlock; e. Develop better academically and socially; f. [Are] healthier physically and emotionally when they reach adulthood.” You had better believe the breakdown of the family has massive economic implications.
4) Abortion. With all the concerns about Social Security defaulting, very few leaders are talking about the 800 pound gorilla missing from the room, namely, multiplied millions of working Americans who are not here to pay into the system and contribute to the economy because their lives were cut short in the womb. Yes, there is an economic consequence to abortion as well.
Perhaps, then, it would be wise for political candidates who really care about what’s best for America to change their slogan to, “It’s the morality, stupid.” Or is this slogan too true to be good?
Michael Brown is host of the daily, syndicated talk radio show, The Line of Fire, and author of A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.
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