by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
October 4, 2012
HOPE HAS NOT LEFT THE BUILDING
BRADENTON, Fla., Sept. 30, 3012 -- One reason Republicans and their presidential candidate, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, are struggling against Democrats and President Barack Obama is that as a political football, the economy has become deflated. That is to say, to paraphrase a slogan of the Clinton era, "It's not the economy, stupid - it's about people."
The economic meltdown that started near the end of President George W. Bush's second term certainly did have our attention, but this is the TV Age. Americans are no longer capable, in general and abstract terms, of worrying about the same problem constantly for years on end. It's not like World War II, which was impossible to forget about while it progressed, or even the Vietnam War."
The economy has become more like cold fusion, which seized the national imagination for a time but eventually lost its appeal. Today, cold fusion is becoming extremely important and working devices are already being displayed, but very few know about them. In a similar way, our obsession with the economy has diminished as years have gone by without significant improvements. Those of us who were broke four years ago are still broke, but we now think more about new movies and new iPhones than we do about the economy.
And how is it "about people"? Well, not long ago the very rich were indeed different than you and me; today, relative to their former wealth, they, too, are broke. A person who lived in a house that lost $500,000 of its value feels as devastated as someone like me, whose home lost $68,000 of its value. A wealthy broker whose job at Bear Stearns & Co. paid him a million a year is just as unemployed as a guy like me, whose last job paid $12,800 a year (for three months!). We meet in unemployment lines, or would, if I qualified.
There's a lot of posturing about the economy and what can be done about it. The idea that Mitt Romney has suggested, which is to deregulate everything and open up a hidden flow of dollars, is not without its consequences, we all know. When we deregulated the banks and investment houses in 1999 by getting rid of the Glass-Steagall Act, which since 1933 has kept them apart, the natural tendency of stock investors to gamble overcame the natural conservatism of bankers, and Wall Street become one big casino that just eight years later lost very, very big. A lot of bankers and investment houses want the casinos back, and Mitt Romney is their voice.
But out here in te hinterlands, where all our money burned in the sub-prime mortagge meltdown and the lightning downturn of the stock markets, there is no such desire to return to the past. For the time being, under President Obama, we appreciate the small, steady signs of growth - a few more jobs, better home prices, a few more housing starts - and they have have become consistent enough that we don't spend a lot of time thinking about them.
Today, watching the economy move is like watching paint dry. Yet that beats the thrill of 700-point down days on the market and the thunderous crash of investment houses like Lehman Brothers and banks like Washington Mutual and mortgage lenders like Countryside.
I think the Great Recession in many ways has drawn people together without a lot of voiced commonality. All of us being broke together has helped us realize how much one human being is like every other when separated from the trappings of our former wealth. I live in a nice home I bought when things were good, but I ran out of food stamps two weeks early this month and last, and I was just as likely as the next guy to head to McDonald's for that free cup of coffee they gave away all this last week. I was at Wal-Mart just like they were, and at the discount movies and Redbox instead of the first-run theaters. I drove nmiles to save six cents a gallon gas, and bought $5 worth; just a few months ago, I was buying $3 worth.
It's hard for a guy like Romney who made $13 million doing nothing last year to connect with people who may have made some money in the past but now don't have a penny to spare. That will never be the circumstance for him; he will never knock on our farmhouse door someday to ask for a bite to eat. Most of us could see that happening if things got an awful lot worse.
We don't get too worried about "big" government because we get our Social Security checks and food stamps and unemployment checks with amazing regularity; as a freelancer most of my life, I can't remember ever having an employer who paid me with such clockwork regularity, or even being able to see a doctor as I can with Medicare and Medicaid. If it takes a lot of bureaucrats to accomplish that, so be it.
What do we worry about, now that the economy is not worth the worry? In my own case, I worry about war with Iran; I don't want Israel to push us into it. I worry about pension reform; I know that without it, any pension system will eventually go broke, but I worry about the ability of people to save enough themselves from their paychecks to provide for life in retirement.
I worry about the impact of the media, mainly because Fox News, founded by a foreigner who bought his citizenship and his near-monopoly status in media markets with the help of Newt Gingrich and his fellow conservatives, and whose newspapers in Britain were driven by wiretapping nearly everyone of note in London, is dedicated to dividing and destroying us, and even forcing other more objective media to become more partisan in opposition. Neither MSNBC nor Fox News are a good thing for America.
On a daily basis, I think a lot about the incremental progress that is being made in cold fusion - today mostly known as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, or LENR - and similar pollution- and radiation-free ways to provide power to vast populations. Like little else, these technologies can truly change the world, making fossil fuels, natural gas and nuclear energy things of the past.
But overcoming the bureaucratic gravity of the government - which just granted its first cold fusion patent to Dr. George Miley a few months ago - and the economic inertia of huge corporations is a difficult thing to do; even here, President Obama has been helpful by issuing an Executive Order that fosters co-generation, which is the use of waste heat to create electricity, and changed the U.S. Patent Office, which for decades, literally, refused to consider cold fusion patent applications.
This worry of mine is not difficult to understand; we have several undeclared wars in progress Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen - that have oil as a common element, and some 1.6 billion people are still without electric power, while the vast amounts of power that can produce large-scale desalinization and end droughts is still awaiting a cheap source of electricity that cold fusion can provide.
I watched the 1984 debate between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan earlier tonight, and they were arguing then about a $277-billion deficit, a number that today is smaller than the annual revenues of ExxonMobil or the assets of Citigroup. You can't get your head around a $16-trillion deficit.
The people who are supposed to worry about that deficit no doubt are worrying as hard as they can; they are not the American people as a whole. For us, it's about referees, pennant races and the cost of gasoline; it's not all about the economy, at all. The fact is we are all proud of ourselves for having elected Barack Obama in the first place; that was proof we'd come a long, long way. No one really wants to go back.
Reach Joe Shea at email@example.com.