Amazingly, I recently had a chance to to be interviewed by Clint Eastwood about the “state of politics” and the upcoming elections. Unlike the President’s interview during the Republican National Convention, however, I actually got to answer for myself. Although I deeply apologize for having been out of touch for so long, I did think I should at least get you this before Election Day. Maybe, if nothing else, it can serve as a base from which to explore some subjects in greater detail once the election is over. I addressed Mr. Eastwood as Mayor Eastwood since I think that is the highest office he held, either in real politics or on film, and some of the exchange follows:
Mayor Eastwood: I notice from some FEC Reports that I came across that you donated to President Obama’s Campaign. I was a bit surprised. After four years of futility, don’t you think it is time for a change?
Joel Kanter: Mr. Mayor, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you. As an actor, you were one of my childhood and adult favorites, and The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly and Play Misty For Me are still among the movies I flip on and watch over and over if they come on cable. More recently, as a Director, I think you have made several films that will become all time classics like Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven. Thus I am hoping you can understand my surprise that someone as accomplished as yourself has such a hard time assessing “past performance.” Had the President’s name been McCain instead of Obama and what I told you about him was that he a) rescued the financial sector, the auto industry and the overall American economy, bringing them all back from the brink of the greatest crises since the Great Depression, and today all are showing significant signs of improvement; b) brought accountability and an emphasis on improved student learning to the forefront of educational reform efforts, improved the student-loan program, and begun a critical modernization of our education system; c) made our health care and consumer credit system more consumer-friendly; d) made substantial investments in growth-producing initiatives like basic R&D, infrastructure, and the clean technologies of the future; e) supported the 50 states, so they did not have to lay off firemen, policemen and teachers critical to the health and safety of communities across the nation; f) maintained the social safety net during the downturn, helping ensure that millions of Americans did not fall even further behind; g) ended one war and is winding down another; h) caught and killed Bin Laden; and h) cut taxes for millions of Americans, giving them a little more in their paycheck during this time of struggle; would you really be questioning whether he should be re-elected?
Mayor Eastwood: But, you would certainly agree that John McCain never would have done the “Apology Tour” that President Obama did when he was first elected? Ruining our strength overseas?
Joel Kanter: How do you define those terms? If what you suggest was true, why is it that the international community cannot believe that the election is even going to be close, and polls show almost every country overwhelmingly supports Obama’s re-election? For example, a survey last month by the German Marshall Fund found Europeans generally favored the President 75% – 8% over Romney. In individual countries, he is favored by 72% – 5% in France, 65% – 18% in Kenya, 65% – 10% in Canada, about the same in Brazil, about 45% – 10% in Mexico, 35% – 12% in India, and about the same in Japan. Where does Romney have a lead? Pakistan. Yup, by 13% – 11% they are all over getting someone else in control of those drones.
Mayor Eastwood: Okay, but domestically, how can you just brush off the lethargic job growth and economic recovery?
Joel Kanter: Again, your definitions are interesting, although not exactly intellectually honest. The day the President took Office, the economy was losing jobs at the rate of 20,000 per day! Between the beginning of 2008 and the beginning of 2010 when the tide began to turn, the economy lost nearly 8.8 million jobs. 4.5 million under President Bush and another 4.3 million under President Obama, although none arguably that were President Obama’s “fault.” In February 2009, the Recovery Act was passed, and the rate of losses slowed almost immediately. Since then, the economy has added over 4.7 million jobs, or about 150,000 per month, and has made the President something in four years that Bush was not in eight years. A JOB CREATOR. And, that is despite the fact that the public sector has lost 700,000 jobs in those four years, something virtually no President in history has faced during an economic recovery when public sector employment tends to lead the recovery, not take a full percentage point off the employment rate. You, of all people, who harp on the “size of government” should be happy that the President not only does not discount the first two years when the job losses were part of the Bush recession, but then did not rely on public sector employment to pull the economy back from the brink.
And, none of this takes into account study after study that show the deeper the economic “hole,” the slower the recovery. Looking at recent history, coming out of the 2001 post 9/11 recession, even with all of the Bush Tax Cuts, the economy only grew moderately faster the ensuing three years than it has the past three, and created 1.1 million LESS jobs in those three years than the last three. The only mistake the President made was his effort to “reach across the aisle” and not stand in front of the nation on Inauguration Day in 2009 and say “This is a horrid situation we have been left by the previous Administration, and it is going to be a long, slow climb back.” FDR did that, and was re-elected by even larger margins than he was elected by. Obama didn’t, and it has resulted in Governor Romney making it sound like his promise to create 250,000 jobs a month, a mere 75,000 or so more than we are creating now anyway (given last months report of 171,000 and an 84,000 jobs adjustment up for the couple of months just prior) and a level we would have been at had public sector employment not dropped so much, is actually “doing something.” In reality, we will likely get to that level anyway as the trend is favorable, and his his policies won’t accelerate the growth. Worse, the Republicans have done everything they can to fight even the recovery that has emerged, just so you can have a campaign in which the argument is “we don’t like that guy.”
Mayor Eastwood: And, what about the deficits?
Joel Kanter: This is where I really tend to fall back on that great Mark Twain quote that went “Imagine you were an idiot. Now imagine you were a Member of Congress. But then, I repeat myself.” Because, the discussion we have been having is really not all that fair when those making the biggest stink are those most responsible for our position. After all, until President Carter came along, all of those other Presidents (about 38 of them I think, but that is about sixth grade history, which is over my pay grade) had racked up about $800 billion in national debt. Carter took that up to about $900 Billion. Then the great Republican Hero and deficit hawk, Ronald Reagan came in with that “trickle down” theory that sounds an awful lot like the Romney economic plan, which unfortunately did not make it quite as far as the U.S. Treasury, because he left with a $2.8 trillion national debt or about a three fold (I do know enough math to know that is 300%) increase. Interesting that there is not a word about that when criticizing this President for a 60% increase. Then came the first Bush, who was pretty miserly, not even doubling it again, and leaving with a $4.3 trillion national debt. By the standards of those guys, Clinton was a real chump, as he could hardly muster a 25% increase to $5.7 trillion, and worse, left with the Government running a surplus and buying back Treasury Bills! But not to worry, the next Bush did nearly double that to about $10 trillion. So really? This is not to say that we don’t need to do anything about the issue, but then when the President and Speaker Boehner came to an agreement on a $4.5 trillion deficit reduction plan two summers ago, the Teas Party Republicans pulled the “rug out” because it contains more than a dime of tax increases. Add that there is no credible economist that suggests that we would have pulled out of the economic morass we were in without the spending that took place, and now that we have emerged from it, Governor Romney proposes a plan that in Greece, Iceland, Portugal, and Spain have only served to stifle economic growth and lead to massive unemployment while creating greater economic disparity, and you just have to wonder who the real deficit hawks are?
Mayor Eastwood: Fine, but you have to at least agree that the President has done nothing about the problem underlying the economic crises, which is the housing situation?
Joel Kanter: Oh my goodness, now I am reminded about the advice George Bernard Shaw used to give! He said, “Never wrestle a pig. You just get dirty, and the pig likes it.” This interview is beginning to have that sort of feel to it! But, to your point, we clearly could have done more, but we never would have gotten cooperation from the Republicans, and you just can’t “cherry pick” your economic narrative now! Well, you can, but it sure won’t match the facts. This is about like harping on the “Obama promise” that unemployment would drop to 5.4%, which of course was made before Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Merrill Lynch all collapsed. And, if we did what we really needed to do when housing collapsed and forced the banks to refinance mortgages of homeowners in danger of losing their homes, or offered short term loans to help them meet their mortgage payments until the economy recovered, can you imagine the political firestorm that would have ensued? And, can we really have an honest policy debate in this country when you choose to criticize the President for not taking steps that Republicans would have blocked anyway?
Mayor Eastwood: But you have to at least concede that there is something to be said for returning some federal power to the states where they can better be deployed, and where they know the needs of their people best?
Joel Kanter: That is a nice narrative, but really just part of a concerted effort to destroy programs that conservatives and Republicans don’t want to see in place anyway. Let’s take the Medicaid Voucher Program that Paul Ryan has proposed. It sounds so nice and innocent until you consider how poorly so many states already administer what they can control about Medicaid. For example, would you find it at all surprising to learn that there are 17 States where making more than $5,000 a year would keep you off Medicaid? That’s right, some $9,000 less than the federal poverty level, yet you cannot qualify for Medicaid. So, lets look at which they are and see if we can discern any pattern. At $5,000 or more to be disqualified we have Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. BUT, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and West Virginia disqualify you at income of over $4,000. States that are a little poorer, and a little more Southern. Oh, and all run by Republicans. Then there is Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas where you don’t qualify if you made $3,000 or more. Now that is an interesting list, huh?
Mayor Eastwood: So, you are saying that Conservatives are simply trying to find a “back door” way to kill programs they just don’t like?
Joel Kanter: I prefer to look at this the way John Adams seemed to suggest when he said “In my many years, I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a shame. Two is a law firm. And, three or more is a Congress.” And, I would argue that the Republican Congress is, and has been dedicated to wealth redistribution in the United States, which it will accomplish not by being the responsible economic stewards they claim to be, but by carrying little about deficits, as evidenced by the figures outlined above, in the hope that in fighting them we will have to cancel all of the programs they hate so much. Our country was built on an ever expanding middle class, one that continued to grow in its ability to offer a better life to its children than the generation before it. And, it served an economy that is 70% based on consumer spending well. From the beginning of the 20th Century through World War II, the Top 10% of families in the United States accounted for 1/3 of income growth, while the bottom 90% received the other 2/3. But, consider this, Between 1986 (the Reagan Administration) and 2000, the richest 10% of Americans received 77% of the country’s average income growth. BUT, between 2000 – 2007, all of the country’s income growth went to the Top 10%, while average income for the lower 90% actually declined! Even worse, you suggest leaving the Bush Tax Cuts in place for the richest 1% when 40,000 of those millionaires pay less than a 4% tax rate, At the same time, closing a tax loophole regarding how hedge fund managers are taxed, which the President proposed and the House killed, would have raised enough to put 300,000 teachers back to work, or half the public sector job loss of the past four years, and a half percentage point lower unemployment. Revenue neutral, but Mayor Eastwood, your guys said no!
Mayor Eastwood: So, why do you think the race is so close?
Joel Kanter: Interestingly, at least a bit of it is the quality of the national debate. As Mark Twain used to say, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. Read the newspaper, and you are misinformed.” The same seems to be true of far too many “talk shows” that are labeled as news shows, and by not reporting things as they “are”, we end up distorting the vote. So, the simple answer is that there are still too many old, and too many white voters for the “tide to turn” as decisively as it should. Consider that Obama will carry 90%+ of the African American vote. And, he is polling at 70% of the Hispanic vote, 65% of the Millennial Generation vote (the largest generation in American history, and one that by 2020 will be one of every three votes in the country), and about 65% of single women. But, married women and white men are a different story.
So, part of the question is what everyone really knows about the story? Do those married women know, for example, that the end of Planned Parenthood will also eliminate breast and cervical cancer screenings for the poor? That the resulting adverse costs of caring for those women once the disease progresses will significantly impact Medicaid? That rolling back Obama Care will eliminate many of the protections that now keep employer plans paying for preventative medicine? That older women, who outlive men by an average of 10 years, will pay $6,500 more per year for Medicare under the Ryan Plan? As Catwoman said to Bruce Wayne in Batman this past Summer, “There is a storm coming Mr. Wayne.” Only she meant of the poor, and here it is for the rich. And, it could get worse if we cannot redevelop a “heart”. It could become generational. More on that another day, but for the moment, my warning is in the title of this interview. It may be that Christina Perri wrote the line with something else in mind, but if this continues, I do believe that eventually this will be the short history of the end of the Republican Party as we know it today:
I learned to live half a life
But now you want me one more time
And, who do you think you are
Running around leaving scars
Collecting your jar of hearts
And tearing love apart
Your going to catch a cold
From the ice inside your soul
So don’t come back for me
Don’t come back at all
Who do you think you are?
Jar of Hearts
Mayor Eastwood: Well, it seems that we don’t agree on much. Why don’t you at least tell me how you think Tuesday will come out?
Joel Kanter: Well, those who know me know I am not afraid of predictions. Sometimes, like 2008, I make them and they look really good. Sometimes, like 2010, not so much. But, they are out there, with the reasoning. So, here we go. I predict that in retrospect we will determine that the “Romney surge” ended a week to 10 days ago, and has been trending slightly back to Obama ever since. That would be enough to win the popular vote, but add to that the fact that Gary Johnson is carrying 4% – 5% for the Libertarian Party in most polls in the states he made the ballot, and that while third party candidates never carry what they poll because too many people get in the voting booth and decide that they don’t want to waste the vote, they can draw votes away from the major candidates. Ralph Nadar did it to the Democrats twice, and this time it is Mitt’s turn. So, my guess is that his numbers drop or so, which in this case mostly benefits Obama. Take the two factors together, plus a huge Obama Get Out The Vote effort, and I predict that Obama carries 51% and a 50/50 shot at exceeding 51.5%. Given the the 2008 Campaign is the first time a Democrat carries a majority since Lyndon Johnson was running, and 51% looks more like a mandate than you might otherwise think.
The situation in the swing states is even worse for Romney. Where he had maybe gotten within a few points in many of these states, I believe that the last 10 days has seen most move to larger single digit leads. I believe Obama will carry Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. I think Romney may get Florida, but barely. I really can’t read Colorado where the economic devastation may be enough to offset what has really been happening everywhere as the Democratic “surge” that started in 2004 took hold, which is the move among suburban women from being 55% Republican to being 55% Democratic.
Mayor Eastwood: But how does that jive with the Romney Campaign indicating that it is going to campaign in Michigan and Pennsylvania because it believes they are in play?
Joel Kanter: Oh, I am not sure I believe those states are competitive. I believe that Romney has more money, thanks to Citizen United, than he knows what to do with, and there is only so much one can spend in North Dakota. I believe that all campaigns, at the end, come up with ploys to make things seem possible that aren’t. I am pretty sure Clinton pulled the same stunt with respect to South Dakota in his Re-Election Campaign
Mayor Eastwood: And the Senate?
Joel Kanter: The Democrats stay in control, which is remarkable since six months ago it was a “done deal” that control would shift. Amazing what horrid Tea Party candidates like Todd Aiken and Richard Murdock can do for you. Add in some great Democratic candidates in Democratic states like Massachusetts, strong candidates in toss up states like Nevada, Virginia, and Wisconsin, and you have the makings for this prediction, which is that Harry Reid has one more Senator in “his camp” in January than now, and that they will change the filibuster rules when they organize. The House will stay with the Republicans, at least in part because of Redistricting on the heels of the 2010 election, and they may even pick up a couple of seats there, all of which will create a hugely interesting test of how to cooperate or not when the next Congress convenes. But, specifically, winners include Baldwin in Wisconsin (who I think becomes the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate, Berkely in Nevada, Heitkamp in North Dakota, McCaskill in Missouri, and Warren in Massachusetts. Call it the Year of the Woman” and then they can fight about which is the Woman of the Year. But what will be clear is that the decision to recruit these great women saved the Democratic Senate.
Mayor Eastwood: Well, I hope for the sake of freedom that you are wrong.
Joel Kanter: And, it is precisely because of freedom that I think I will be right. The freedom to make decisions about your own body. The freedom to marry who you want. The freedom to know who is funding political campaigns. The freedom to know that the six year old next to your kid in Nursery School is not packing. The freedom to earn equal pay for equal work. The freedom to get a quality education. The freedom to emigrate to our Country. The freedom to sleep at night knowing that the most disadvantaged among us are cared for. And, maybe, with just a bit of luck, freedom from the hypocrisy of criticizing one’s President for absolutely everything, even when the core principle is one you would have supported had it been your own party that proposed it as could not possibly be more in evidence than Romney’s flip on Obama Care. For we need to get back to reasoned action and compromise. Or, as the song goes:
Well, first came an action
And then a reaction
But, you can’t switch around
For your own satisfaction
You burned my house down,
then got mad at my reaction
It’s just that you can’t take the effect
And make it the cause.
Cause & Effect