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Reviewing the ballot materials for November's election can be a daunting, but - as it turns out - exciting experience. Lots to digest and ponder at all governmental levels: local, state and national.
Locally, there are two elections for Sacramento City Council (Districts 2 and 4); several more for council seats in outlying communities; two bond Measures, Q and R, to fund City school facilities; Measure T to curb (no pun intended) yard-waste dumping; U to raise the local sales tax to support "essential city services;" and, finally, the controversial Measure M to establish a charter commission for Sacramento, the up or down vote accompanied by 56 candidates for
15 commission seats just in case it's "up" - if nothing else, the measure would provide platform opportunities for local political aspirants.
At the state level, all manner of confusing propositions (about which I wrote here on October 14th), and depending on where you live, hotly-contested legislative races.
Still, the big choice in November - the vote that will significantly impact all of us - is that for President. The outcome will not only result in one of two vastly different public policy sets for the next four years, but also for years to come what with two U.S. Supreme Court appointments (by our next President) imminent. Which Presidential candidate to choose (and why)?
Failing to come up with any innovative approaches, the Republican Tea Party (RTP) has borrowed a page from the playbook of its spiritual guru, Ronald Reagan, asking voters the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” The short answer to this is “marginally.” However, this isn’t even the right question, certainly not the right benchmark, to assess the performance of President Barack Obama.
A little context: four years ago (2008), financial hell broke loose – a severe economic downturn had begun, the investment bank Lehman Bros. imploded and it became apparent that the largest U.S. banks had accumulated or foisted on unsuspecting investors bundles of bad loans (with many sub-prime mortgages) overrated by the rating agencies and inadequately insured. The bloated U.S. financial sector was on the verge of collapse, on the edge of the abyss; Wall Street and the nation were in panic over the prospect of another depression. A simplistic one-page opaque bank bailout by George Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was rejected out of hand, even by the RTP.
Upon election, new President Obama pushed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka “stimulus package”) that created 2 million jobs along with a TARP bank rescue (now virtually all repaid); interceded to save the auto industry and, therefore, the Midwest’s economy; and now has virtually removed the U.S. from the illegal Iraq campaign. He also got the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy repealed, the Ledbetter Fair Pay (for women) Act passed, and endorsed same-sex marriage, among other progressive steps.
From there, however, the President’s scorecard is mixed. In key matters of healthcare reform and financial regulation he gave away comprehensive solutions by capitulating early to the RTP in hopes of bipartisan agreements that were never meant to be. After all, Mitch McConnell, Senate RTP leader, stated publicly that its sole agenda was to get Obama defeated in 2012, even if America tanked (I added the last part, but it’s sadly true), and House RTP, like sheep, have unanimously opposed everything Obama proposed.
Worse, Obama has failed to effectively help with the devastating home foreclosures faced by low income Americans, compounded the problematic Bush era surveillance of U.S. citizens, kept Guantanamo open, signed legislation allowing the military to detain U.S. citizen "terror suspects" without charge (goodbye due process), expanded the civilian-killing Drone attacks over Pakistan, failed to fully solve the American conundrum in Afghanistan, and refused to prosecute, investigate or in any way hold accountable the Bush cabinet for its war crimes – perhaps politically expedient in the interest, as he put it, of “moving forward,” but forever altering the American character.
That said, the alternative of John McCain the past four years clearly would have been far worse. A McCain presidency would likely have produced an invasion of Iran, the auto industry (and Midwest vitality) as a dim memory, austerity fiscal measures of the sort that have brought the Euro Zone to the brink of dissolution, and escalation of the 1%-99% U.S. wealth disparity.
Electing Mitt Romney and a RTP House (or even Senate) this November will certainly bring efforts to privatize Medicare (bloating health insurance costs/profits), reduce womens' health choices, reduce taxes for the wealthy and safety net programs for the poor (enlarging income inequality), jeopardize diplomatic progress with Iran, impose counterproductive austerity-type domestic fiscal policies, and ironically increase the debt that the RTP touts as the root of all our problems.
Or not. While the RTP agenda of “representation without taxation” (its backward rendition of the original Tea Party objective) and minimal government is clear, what Romney really stands for is something of a mystery. One clue: his career as a leveraged buyout manipulator is a scary reminder of the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the film, “Wall Street” – at best, not a happy prospect, at worst, foreshadowing a long-term future that resembles the setting of the 1980’s movie, “Blade Runner.” Life imitates fiction.
Electing Obama? Depends…upon the character of Congress. An RTP House may continue to stonewall Obama’s proposals. An RTP-controlled Senate would produce complete gridlock through 2015. By contrast, Obama with Democratic majorities in both House and Senate raises the possibility of hope for the change that Obama sold so effectively in 2008, but has failed thus far to fully deliver.
Noting the RTP's success at exploiting the SuperPACs unleashed by Citizens United and Speechnow.org court decisions and the resulting deluge (exceeding one billion dollars) in largely misleading campaign advertising, it’s incumbent upon progressives to get out the vote: talk your neighbor to the polls and locally support John Garamendi, Jack Uppal, Doris Matsui and Ami Bera.
Sacramento economist and writer
Editor's note: The second paragraph has been edited to reflect the accurate number of seats for the charter commission.