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The Economy: Red Said, Blue Said

Dear Red Said, Blue Said,

The economy is polling as a top concern—if not the top concern—of American voters. How should the candidates convince hard-working voters (both Democrat and Republican) of their ability and desire to improve their plight?

The Blue Perspective: Erin Egan
My husband and I have a running joke about one of us being secretly wealthy. “Sweetie, we’ve been together for ten years—don’t you think it’s time to tell me about that trust fund of yours?” Unfortunately, as far as I know, neither of us has a valuable nest egg tucked away. No, we are still working hard, and, like a majority of Americans, we don’t believe that our economic situation improved in the last five years.

I am no economist, but I can run a household. Each month we review our priorities (bills, food, millions of diapers), save as much as possible, and see what’s left over for us to enjoy. When times get tighter, we remind ourselves not to live beyond our means, look at ways to cut expenses, and try to save more.

Pretty simple, right?
Not for John McCain. America has been living beyond its means for the better part of seven years. Tax cuts for those who actually have trust funds and the ongoing war in Iraq wiped out our nation’s savings and then some. We’ve essentially taken out a second (or third) mortgage on the country, which is largely held as debt by foreign countries like China. Republican policies have left the country wanting for options and facing tough choices to regain our financial footing.

What would you do if this was your household? Let’s take a look at John McCain’s solution.
After declaring that he “has never really understood” economics (love that straight talk!), Senator McCain nevertheless insists that we’re “overall better off” now than we were eight years ago and “there’s been great progress economically.” I guess then it’s no surprise that he intends to extend Bush’s tax cuts (after voting against them twice) and spend billions indefinitely in Iraq. To complete the perfect storm, the only way to make up the difference is to cut Social Security, Medicare, and ignore our own infrastructure.
You don’t have to be an economist to understand that we cannot continue down this path, yet that’s where McCain is heading. Without a healthy American household, we can’t meet the challenges of hard-working Americans who are facing job cuts, foreclosures, and dwindling spending power.
Okay, Senator, we’ve been together a while now. Isn’t it time to unveil that secret trust fund that will make your math work?

The Red Perspective: Kathryn Biber Chen
When courting voters on economic issues, the secret is finding a balance between soft-hearted empathy and hard-headed bean-counting. Too much of the former is Hillary Clinton bragging, “I have a million ideas. The country can’t afford them all.” Too much of the latter is Newt Gingrich attempting to kill Big Bird. The sweet spot is somewhere between Bill Clinton’s “third way” and George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”—the nexus of welfare reform and “feeling” voters’ pain, and tax cuts and Medicare Part D.

First. While good, practical ideas are important, genuine understanding of the middle class plight must come before eggheaded white papers. Candidates must say plausibly: I identify with your problems, with your impending foreclosure, with your tax burden, and with your medical bills. This is the opposite of the “government-knows-best” mentality that has plagued the Democratic Party during my lifetime. Voters detest patronizing elitism, which often masquerades as sympathy. And they can smell a fraud.   

Barack Obama recently learned this fact when he described Pennsylvanians by saying, “It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Or, as Bill Kristol smartly translated, “Religion … it is the opium of the people.” It was fitting that this comment was lobbed from the rarified air of a fundraising event in San Francisco, where Mr. Obama was presumably trying to explain to baffled donors why blue-collar Pennsylvania voters could possibly support someone other than him.          

Second. American voters—even Democrats—are fiscal conservatives at heart. They know big-government programs won’t fix economic woes. They instinctively clutch their pocketbooks when candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton propose “solutions” to economic troubles. They agreed with Ronald Reagan when he famously cracked, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Candidates must give voice to these important concerns.     

In November, voters will gravitate to the presidential candidate who has fought for smaller, not bigger, government; lower, not higher, taxes; and less, not more, red tape. A candidate who understands that the American economy can be hindered by governmental meddling more than it can be helped. These principles are the hallmark of the Republican Party, and its candidate, John McCain.

During this election season, DivineCaroline is presenting a twice-monthly column on politics from two points of view: one red, one blue. Each month you can read what Democrat Erin Egan and Republican Kathryn Biber Chen have to say about the issues. To make sure you never miss a Red Said, Blue Said column, just click on the author’s name at the top of the story, then select “Be notified when writer publishes” at the top of the page. We’ll send you an email as soon as a new column is published.


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