The Rowdy Roddy Piper Presidency
In a column I wrote several months ago, I mentioned how I watched a lot of professional wrestling as a child. One of my favorite wrestlers back then was Rowdy Roddy Piper, the crafty and sharp-tongued arch-nemesis of fan favorite, Hulk Hogan. Piper was kind of the J.R. Ewing of Saturday mornings - the villain that fans loved to hate. I always got a kick out of the animated rants he would deliver when interviewed. They were loud, wide-eyed, and completely off-the-wall zany. One particular Piper quote, that he repeated on several occasions, stuck with me for some reason: "Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions."
I'm pretty sure the line was intended to promote the unhinged mental state of Piper's character, and little more. Yet, when I look at the national debate going on in this country right now, I can't help but recognize the mantra as defining a newly found, real world relevance. It's the political strategy being used by the Obama administration.
Let's recap the economic state of this country right now, just for grins...
Three years into the age of Obama, we STILL haven't dipped below 8% unemployment. As some might recall, 8% was the number the administration predicted we'd NEVER rise to in the first place due to the passage of their astonishingly expensive stimulus package. According to them, we were supposed to be at 6% right now, with 5.5% around election day of 2012. Despite Obama's promise in 2008 that he would cut the national debt in half by the end of his first term, he has added $5 trillion to it (more than was added by our country's first 42 presidents combined) and continues to propose breathtaking increases in deficit spending. Our nation's credit rating has been downgraded for the first time in our history. Foreclosures are on the rise again. Gas prices have increased 83% under Obama. The workforce participation rate is at an all-time low. The percentage of households on government assistance is at an all-time high. Since the passage of Obamacare, national health insurance premiums have increased by 9% in 2011 alone, and are on track to double over the next decade. Our nation's Medicare program will run out of money in just over 12 years. Social Security, which started paying out more money than it was taking in in 2010, will run out of money in 24 years.
Yet, what is the primary economic debate in our country over right now? Raising taxes on the rich - an Obama administration proposal that does nothing to pay off our national debt, does nothing to create jobs, does nothing to grow the economy, and does nothing to save our safety-net programs. What does it do? It gives us the personal satisfaction of sticking it to the people we resent for having more than we do. That's all.
Why on earth is this what our country is talking about when our economic prospects are smoldering and ready to ignite into the same hopeless inferno that is burning through the country of Greece? The answer is simple. Obama changed the question, and his loyal lackeys in the media shaped that question into the new national narrative. Their success has been nothing short of remarkable.
Think about where we were just a year and a half ago...
By election time in 2010, the electorate was extremely angry with the direction the Democratic party had steered the country in. They saw serious problems with our drastic increase in spending and expansion of government, and worried about the future of their children and grandchildren. Led by the organic Tea Party movement, they answered the question of how to change the trajectory by making their voices heard at ballot boxes. Republicans were voted back into power in the House of Representatives to place handcuffs on the president's policy-making. The uprising took the American Left by complete surprise and they weren't sure how to squelch it. They couldn't do it by pointing to positive results, because the Obama administration had none to tout. They tried to do it with accusations of racism and extremism, but only found limited success.
At that time, the Obama administration and the Democratic party had a decision to make. They could either listen and learn from their historic loss, or they could stay the course and pull the electorate back to them. Being perhaps the most ideologically-driven administration in history, they chose the latter. Still, they did recognize the need for a change in their message. Their previous one had gone down in flames.
The only hope Obama had to get the electorate back on his side was to change the question. They desperately wanted poisonous terms like stimulus spending, deficit spending, Cap & Trade, and Obamacare out of the national conservation. Their answer was class warfare.
They took the ugly human instinct of jealousy, validated it, and manufactured a populous argument: Why should the middle class be suffering when rich people aren't? Now, this should have been a tough sell to Americans. After all, nobody at the time was concerned about rich people not paying enough taxes in this country. It wasn't on anyone's radar. People were understandably worried about themselves. They were worried about losing their job. They were standing in unemployment lines, praying to find work. They were trying to figure out how they could stay in their homes.
Obama realized that Americans were going to stay angry due to the terrible economy, so he needed to redirect that anger away from him. The only way he could do that was to mainstream his new message. Queue the media...
The media was ready for a challenge. They'd been working exhaustively to prop up the administration for over two years and it was no longer having an affect . Despite their best efforts, Obama's approval rating continued to drop and more and more people believed the country was heading in the wrong direction. They were tired of playing defense and were more than ready to jump back on offense.
When the president began delivering speeches on the plight of the 99% and how they were doing their fair share while the 1% wasn't, the media ran with it. They presented the ridiculously disingenuous narrative that raising taxes on rich people would somehow benefit the struggling middle class. They rallied around the Occupy Wallstreet movement, ignoring the numerous crimes the group was committing, and painted them in the most flattering and sympathetic light imaginable. They turned Warren Buffett's secretary into some sort of folk hero by highlighting the fact that she pays a higher tax rate than her boss, but didn't bother to explain that it's because her boss purposely draws half the salary that she does. They touted the results of national polls showing that most Americans wanted taxes increases on the rich to pay off the debt, but the media refused to explain that raising taxes on the rich would do exactly nothing to pay off the debt.
The polling is what I find particularly fascinating. If given the choice between paying a fee and having someone else pay that fee, you'll never get a majority of people who would rather dish out the money themselves. The problem is in the question itself. It implies that the debt burden can be lifted by taking more money from people. It can't. That notion is utter fiction. And the fact that most Americans believe in that fiction is a scathing indictment of the dishonest news media.
The class warfare strategy can only work if most Americans don't understand how serious our problems are. It can only work if most Americans don't realize that the best available resources we have in hopes of getting out of this mess are wealthy people (who the administration wants us to demonize) because they have the means to invest in our economy.
Yet, instead of talking about our nation's financial solvency, we're talking about fair shares and economic equality, and other emotionally-charged terms that are completely irrelevant to and distracting from actual solutions to deal with our national decline.
On a personal level, I find it absolutely appalling that this is the direction we've allowed ourselves to be pulled in as a nation. We're smarter than this. We're better than this.
Sadly, the class warfare strategy has been so incredibly successful that a large portion of us are no longer outraged by our accelerating national decline. We hail an 8.3% unemployment rate as if it's a major achievement and reward the president for it with rising approval ratings. We've watched the Republican presidential candidates reduce themselves to playing with the same deck of trick cards that Obama has dealt to the public, shaming each other for behaving like capitalists in a capitalist system.
This country is on the crust right now of permanently losing its identity. Our hopes of one day returning to the economic prosperity we used to enjoy are diminishing with each passing day. We can either continue to buy into an audacious fantasy, like I did as a child when I adamantly believed that professional wrestling was real... or we can push the side-show aside, demand honesty, and stop being compliant in our own demise.
The media can't be relied on to start showing some integrity and help sober up the nation. That ship has sailed. And unfortunately, there's no Hulk Hogan in the Republican party to rip off his shirt and unleash hell on Obamanomics. This country can't afford to let President Obama continue to play off its unsavory instincts and run out the clock with his carnival of nonsense until election day. If we do, the damage caused to this country in the next four years will make Obama's first term look strikingly timid in comparison.
Our nation won't grow until we grow up.