By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
Dear Mr. President,
It was truly a pleasure listening to your economic speech this past Wednesday in Osawatomie, Kansas. You were clear, strong, and on point. The values of hard work do pay off; responsibility should be rewarded; and American workers have and still can produce the best products on Earth. “Made in America” should still mean something.
You are correct in pointing out that, “There are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia.” Last year, the day after the Senate passed sweeping reforms to regulate the financial industry, Speaker Boehner (R-OH) called for a moratorium on new federal regulations. “I think having a moratorium on new Federal regulations is a great idea,” Boehner said.
Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other conservatives also claim to be speaking on behalf of “the American people” in their opposition to increased regulation, choosing to ignore polls such as NBC/WSJ’s poll showing “65 percent said they wanted more regulation for the oil industry (versus 16 percent who want less); 57 percent want more regulation for Wall Street firms (compared with 15 percent who want less); 53 percent want more regulation for big corporations (versus 21 percent who want less); and 52 percent want more regulation for the health-care industry (compared with 27 percent who want less).”
Your analysis of free-market economics was right on point. The historical references you used to support your arguments were incredibly compelling. “But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can. It only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest.”
Had you chosen to, you could have also referenced the fact that even the “Economic Sage” Alan Greenspan had to finally admit that he was wrong and had put too much faith in the power of self-correcting free markets. During a Congressional hearing in 2008 Greenspan said, “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief…”
Mr. President, you correctly highlighted the ridiculous, time-tested, and failed conservative argument that, “”The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger.” You should have pointed out the fact that this has also been part of the conservative “starve the beast” fiscal political strategy since 1980. By creating or increasing existing budget deficits, via tax cuts, they create a narrative supporting future reductions in the size of government. Economist Paul Krugman summarized the strategy in February 2010: “Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit. They break unions and balance the budget by cutting or eliminating social programs that benefit the poor, working and middle-class’ in America.”
Mr. President, you asked the Senate to allow former Attorney General of Ohio Richard Cordray to protect “…everyday Americans from being taken advantage of by mortgage lenders, payday lenders or debt collectors.” The day after your speech, Republicans in the Senate blocked the vote on your nominee Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They did not block Cordray’s appointment because they didn’t think that he was qualified. They blocked him because they are against the CFPB further regulating business, even if it is to the benefit of the consumer.
Mr. President, during your joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, you clearly stated that any Republican effort to try to force approval of the Keystone pipeline project by attaching a rider for a payroll cut extension bill would fail. You said, “…any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject…So it shouldn’t be held hostage for any other issues that they may be concerned about.” As has been typical since they took over the House, Republicans rebuked you by linking a payroll-tax cut to approval of the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Mr. President, your predecessor President Clinton once said, “When people are insecure, they’d rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right,” Now is the time for you to continue being strong and right. As you stated, the payroll tax cut “shouldn’t be held hostage.” Continue to call out Boehner, Kyle, Cantor, McConnell and the rest as the political terrorists that they are.
Take this speech right into their districts and talk directly with their constituents. In October, the unemployment rate in Kentucky was 9.6 percent, Alabama was 9.3 percent, Ohio was 9 percent, and South Carolina was 10.5 percent. Ask the residents in those states how they feel about the payroll tax cut and an extension to unemployment benefits. Ask them if they’ve benefitted from “Obama Care” and how they feel about cuts to Medicare. As USA Today reports, “more than 2.65 million Medicare recipients have saved more than $1.5 billion on their prescriptions this year and more than 24 million people, or about half of those with traditional Medicare, have gone in for a free annual physical or other screening exam since the rules changed this year.”
Will you win South Carolina, Alabama, and Kentucky? Probably not, but taking these issues right into their districts would resonate and reverberate across this country. If you held town hall meetings with them and said, “I know you don’t like me and that’s fine. You don’t have to, but you deserve to have the facts. An informed democracy is a powerful democracy. As your President, I represent you and here’s the reality that you must come to grips with. I’m here to talk and to listen. Conservative opposition to me is hurting you and here’s why.” If Americans saw you standing up to those people and holding your ground, that would truly be a game changer.
Mr. President, it was a great idea to follow in the footsteps of President Teddy Roosevelt this past week in Kansas but don’t lose sight of his cousin President Franklin Roosevelt who said in 1936, “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred… The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country.”
Mr. President, that’s strong and right!
© 2011 InfoWave Communications, LLC. Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” on Sirius/XM 128. He teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to Dr. Leon’s Prescription on Facebook or email: [email protected] www.twitter.com/drwleon