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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."

 

MID-CAMPAIGN THOUGHTS (REVISED)

AN END TO WHINING?

For most of this spring, I have been really irritated at my fellow liberals/progressives --- especially those who cheered loudest for Barack Obama in 2008, and so far this year have done little or nothing on his behalf. MoveOn, the online progressive lobbying group whose emails I receive, was more interested in trying to reform the financial markets by cozying up to Occupy Wall Street and its increasingly footless demonstrations, or trying to rally support for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision. While these objectives are certainly worthy, the methods attempting to achieve them have less than no likelihood of success if the Republicans gain control of the White House & the Senate in November (considering that they already have a commanding majority in the House).

The New York Times has been acting similarly irritatingly. For the last two or three years, not only MoveOn but also the Times have been whining & complaining about all the ways in which Obama hasn’t been living up to his campaign promises. Never mind that he managed to enact a stimulus bill that managed to help the economy start to revive from the Great Recession brought on by the feckless policies of George W. Bush; it wasn’t big enough to satisfy Paul Krugman and his fellow naysayers, who have been positively gloating ever since the stimulus funds ran out & the economy’s revival has slowed to a crawl. Never mind that Obama also managed to enact the Affordable Care Act, achieving a nationwide medical insurance program that had eluded FDR, Truman, Lyndon Johnson and The Clintons. It didn’t include a “single payer” plan, so it was – at least, at first – kissed off as half a loaf, and not much better than none. Never mind, once again, that Obama and the Democrats were able to pass a bill to regulate the financial markets more effectively. It was still not as thorough or strict as it could have been.

And the list of complaints goes on. On May 10, a Times editorial praising the president’s endorsement of same sex marriage qualified it by disagreeing with the president’s support for letting the states decide this issue. On May 20, an Op-Ed column by Campbell Brown accused Obama of “condescending” to women, by speaking – in his graduation speech at Barnard College ¬¬– of their superior intelligence, but not doing enough to get them more jobs. On June 9, a front page story by Peter Baker raked up a two-year-old story about how the pharmaceuticals industry managed to keep the health insurance bill from sanctioning cheaper imports in exchange for advertising its support for the bill. I happened to access this last story at the Times website, where comments by readers were appended, and there were masses of liberals/progressives complain about corrupt & evil the president was for sanctioning this deal.

All of this irritates me because it’s so obviously based on stale information and/or sheer vanity. All of these liberals/progressives who have been bitching about Obama evidently think that they and they alone elected him, and that he should be obligated only to them. Taint so. Obama was elected by a combination of liberals/progressives and moderates, who also elected a lot of moderate Democrats to the House and Senate. These moderates, who were known as “Blue Dog Democrats,” were what gave the Democrats such a big majority in Congress, especially in the House. They were what enabled the President to pass the stimulus, health care & financial market reform, and these three bills all had to be watered down in order to win “Blue Dog” support.

HE HASN’T DONE SO BAD

Those Blue Dogs in Congress were blown away by the Republican landslide in 2010. The loss of their presence is what has given the House its current heavy Republican majority, and shaved the Democratic majority in the Senate to its one-vote margin. The way I look at it, Obama is doing what he can to lure back all the people who voted for them (and him) in 2008. On the one hand, he has taken some steps to encourage the left to get its act together, endorsing same-sex marriage (as noted above), calling for the extension of lower interest rates for student loans (the cost, to be offset without cutting programs that help the poor), and announcing a program to enable young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S., if these youngsters are law-abiding and constructively occupied (in school, at jobs, or in the military). He – and the Democrats in Congress -- have also initiated modest government programs to benefit the unemployed, and favor an increase of the income tax for the top income brackets. However, the electorate seems to have been pretty thoroughly brainwashed into believing that the federal deficit is too big, and this is certainly the “Blue Dog” point of view, so Obama has to remain committed to some limits on government spending.

Much of the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement has involved calling for an end to the Bush-era tax cuts in the upper income brackets, and/or endorsing a special tax on the top 1 percent of income earners, but Obama in particular is well aware that calling vigorously to boost taxes on the most wealthy won’t help his fund-raising among top-income prospective donors. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision in the “Citizens United” case, he desperately needs huge amounts of money to offset the hundreds of millions being poured into Republican campaign chests by the so-called “Super PACs.” Many of Obama’s warmest supporters come from upper-income groups, but even so, a story by Nicholas Confessore and Derek Willis in the Times for April 21 reported that donations to his campaign from upper-class supporters in nearly every major industry were lagging behind what they’d been in 2008, and that he was having to rely increasingly on small donors.
Furthermore, on June 8, a story in the Times by Michael D. Shear reported that in May, the campaign of Mitt Romney had shot past that of the president in campaign donations, collecting more than $76.8 million, nearly $17 million more than his Democratic rival. Clearly, Obama can’t afford to advertise the tax policies that his party favors too emphatically.

The same sort of need apparently undercut his desire to provide free contraceptive provisions under the Affordable Care Act to employees of all hospitals, including the Catholic ones. When the Catholic hierarchy protested that this was an invasion of their religious liberty, and the Republicans threatened legislation that would enable them to claim that their party alone favored freedom of religion, Obama backtracked and said that the hospitals could pass the buck to their insurers—which didn’t really solve the problem, since many Catholic hospitals are self-insured. In this way, he evidently hoped to head off an open confrontation with the Catholic hierarchy (though given the fact that huge numbers of practicing Catholics employ contraceptive devices themselves, this confrontation may be less serious than it might on paper appear to be).

THE IGNORANCE OF LIBERALS

To sum up, Obama knows that he needs centrist voters as well as the left wingers if he is going to win the election. Too many left-wingers appear to be ignorant of this. They think all he needs is their support, and that’s understandable, if one looks only at the statistics showing how the incomes and educational levels of prospective voters have changed – over all -- over the years. Two political scientists, Alan Abramowitz and Ruy Teixeira, did just this, in an article that appeared in the Political Science Quarterly in the fall of 2009 (based on a chapter in a slightly earlier book). As they saw it, the decline in numbers of the white working class (lower incomes, less educated) and the rise of a mass upper-middle class (higher incomes, more education) had helped Obama win in 2008, because although the white working class was more conservative than it had been, numerically it had declined in proportion to the overall population, while the upper-middle class, which was “more liberal,” had increased in proportion to the overall population. As a result, they argued, the more liberal upper middle-class, which voted more heavily for Obama, overcame the deficit in votes for Obama in the less numerous white working class.

I would agree that white-collar workers have increased in number far more than in some of the traditional blue collar occupations (the crafts, manufacturing, construction, transportation and so on). In 1950, according to Historical Statistics of the United States, colonial times to 1970, a 1975 U.S. Census Bureau publication, the entire civilian labor force was around 60 million (including about 6 million employees whose occupations were not listed). Of the remainder, about 33 million Americans, or roughly 60 percent of the total labor force, were either manual workers in the traditional blue-collar occupations, blue-collar service industry employees (from janitors to policemen to hairdressers), or in the agricultural sector. The remaining 21 million, or nearly 40 percent of the work force, were white collar workers, in management, the professions, technical work, clerical work or sales.

By 2000, as I said in this column in 2001, and again in my book, A Memoir of Creativity (2009), this ratio had already changed to 60 percent white collar workers and 40 percent blue-collar workers. By 2011, according to a study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued in March 2012, this ratio was if anything slightly more lopsided. True, the number of professional and technical workers had increased far more than the workforce as a whole – up 640 percent, or sevenfold, to a total of 37 million. And the traditional blue-collar jobs for manual works in manufacturing, transportation and so on had increased not nearly as much as the work force as a whole – up merely 35 percent, to a total of 27 million, while the agricultural sector had actually declined – drastically, from 7 million farmers and farm workers to only about 500,00. As a result, the two groups together represented a far smaller proportion of the total labor force. However, the lowly blue-collar service industries had mushroomed – nearly tripling, or up 267 percent, to 22 million. And so had two groups of employees who are nominally white-collar but not necessarily very well paid, clerical and sales workers. Clerical workers had tripled, up 200 percent, to 22 million, while sales workers had more than tripled, up 250 percent to 14 million.

Putting all of this together, one finds that the most educated (and affluent) group of working people (as opposed to managers) are the technicians and people in the professions, together adding up to 37 million -- but that they are still less than half of the total number of working people whose jobs require less education and pay less well -- the 85 million workers comprised in the five categories of 1) traditional blue-collar workers, 2) farm workers, 3) service industry workers, 4) clerical workers, and 5) those in sales. Indeed, according to the BLS, the 10 largest occupations, together accounting for more than 20 percent of total employment in May 2011, were almost all in the lowly service industries or in clerical or sales. In addition to retail salespersons and cashiers, the largest occupations included general office work clerks; combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food; registered nurses; waiters and waitresses; and customer service representatives. In other words, from the farmers and factory workers of the 30s, 40s and even the 50s, we now have a nation serving up burgers at McDonald’s and operating cash registers at Wal-mart. And, according to the BLS, most of these largest occupations were relatively low-paying; in fact, of the lot only the nurses were earning above the average U.S. wage of $45, 230 annually. Annual mean wages for the rest of the 10 largest occupations ranged from $18, 790 for combined food preparation and serving workers to $33,120 for customer service representatives.

(Statistics like these, I might add, may help to explain why the Republicans in Congress are so eager to starve the BLS and the Census Bureau out of existence by cutting their budgets. They claim that gathering statistics are an unnecessary expense. Unnecessary for whom?)

A PARTICULAR OVERSIGHT: OCCUPATIONS

Abramowitz and Teixeira deliberately omitted a consideration of specific occupations, on grounds that no current exit polls asked about them. I consider this a cardinal sin of omission, since, as I first argued in 2001, one’s occupation has at least as much to do with how one votes as either one’s income or one’s education. This insight was originally inspired by looking at an old Gallup Poll, taken in 1949, which asked which party best represented the respondents’ interests. This question was a much better indicator of how the respondent really felt, since it wasn’t tied to any particular candidate or election. What the poll showed was that business & professional people (grouped together) heavily favored the Republicans, while farmers and blue-collar workers heavily favored the Democrats, and clerical and sales workers divided more or less evenly between the two parties, with a substantial segment seeing no difference. As I also already knew (from a story I’d worked on at Time 30 years earlier, and revisited while researching my book), white collar workers -- meaning not only business & professional people, but also sales & clerical workers --- had increased in proportion to the population, while blue-collar workers had declined proportionately. Unlike Abramowitz and Teixeira, I felt that this canted the entire body politic in a more conservative direction. Though I could see how this had been going on since the 70s, it was particularly evident in the wake of 9/11, when Bush and the Republicans were being treated like saints – and it also helped to re-elect Bush in 2004 and to ensure a Republican landslide in 2010.

For my book, I did what I could to bring those 1949 statistics up to date. The Gallup people had stopped repeating those original questions some time in the 70s, but the National Election Studies, sponsored by the University of Michigan, continued to do so (the only problem being that they did so in relation to specific candidates & specific elections). What they did document was that, although professionals and semi-professionals (as opposed to managers) were more likely to vote Democratic than Gallup had indicated, both this group and the semi-skilled or unskilled workers became more and more likely over the years to class themselves as “independent” rather than “Democratic.” As I saw it, this meant that they were more likely to vote Republican but didn’t want to admit it or officially identify themselves with the Republican Party. More affluent people, I reasoned, are more likely to appreciate the status quo & not want to reform it in a more egalitarian direction, but another reason for the growing ambivalence of the electorate must also have had to do with the shift from manufacturing to service industries, as factory workers are statistically more likely than service industry workers in the private sector to belong to unions and feel some class consciousness toward the bosses.

THE VULNERABILITY OF EMPLOYEES IN THE SERVICES

A far smaller proportion of the employees in the service industries are organized (except for postal workers, teachers, firemen and policemen, virtually all government employees). In all, according to another recent study by the BLS, only 11.8 percent of all wage & salary workers are organized, or about 14.8 million workers, predominantly in the public sector. In terms of absolute numbers, that is essentially unchanged from the 1950s, but in those days those absolute numbers meant that upwards of 20 percent of all workers were organized, and even as much as 35 percent of those outside the agricultural sector. In the wholesale and retail trades today, unionization is under 5 percent; it’s under 2 percent in the financial industries, including banks, insurance and real estate, and just over 2 percent in professional, technical and business services – all of these areas being segments of the economy that have grown among the fastest.

One reason that union membership is much lower among sales and clerical workers, I think, is because so many of these people work in close enough proximity to management so that they are more likely to identify with it, and confuse its priorities with their own. Finally, there is the factor of age, which Abramowitz & Teixeira neglected to consider (but which I mentioned in passing in my book). I haven’t done all the math on this, but according to the BLS, union membership is highest among workers 55 to 64 years old (15.7 percent), and lowest among those aged 16 to 24 (4.4 percent). This would might very possibly correlate with the fact that the average age of workers in manufacturing and the organized service industries was older and that of service workers in the private sector was younger . Though I haven’t seen any statistics from the BLS that substantiate this, I do think that younger service-industry workers, being less educated than professionals, may be more easily swayed by slick advertising campaigns.

The apparent effects of these campaigns were outlined by Abby Goodnough in the NY Times for June 21. She was describing the $200 million that conservatives have spent in advertisements, especially in those “swing” states which are so important to both candidates, attacking the Affordable Care Act. Goodnough felt that this advertising helped to explain how, according to a recent NY Times-CBS poll, two-thirds of Americans are now turned against the act. I wasn’t surprised (for reasons I explain below) to find that a doctor, a lawyer and a businessman in Doylestown, PA, were opposed to the act, but what was really depressing was a 33-year-old part-time worker in a bagel shop who was also opposed, though she was the kind of person who would benefit from the act. Apparently, the ads had done a thorough job of selling low-paid service-industry people like her on the idea that the nation couldn’t afford it, and that if it came into effect, access to medical care would be “rationed.”

AND HOW ABOUT YOUTH?

Of course, not all younger voters are swayed by Republican advertising, and a big story by David Leonhardt in the Sunday NY Times for June 24 dramatized how liberal the younger generation is, how it endorses same-sex marriage and school funding, is less religious, more positive toward immigrants, less hostile to Social Security cuts and military cuts and more optimistic about the future. Leonhardt suggested that although in previous elections, oldsters and youngsters had voted in largely similar ways, this year “the polls suggest that Mitt Romney will win in a landslide among over 65-voters and that President Obama will do likewise among those under 40.” Leonhardt even managed to suggest that the “generation gap, “ so beloved of journalists in the 60s, is wider now than it has been at any time since then – and to imply that today’s prognosticators are overlooking a powerful force militating on Obama’s behalf.

Nobody besides me would be happier if the descendants of the flower children of the 60s could sweep all before them, but Leonhardt didn’t mention two very important factors that would appear to limit the importance of this phenomenon. In the first place, the flower children of the 60s got much publicity simply because there were so many of them – all the kiddies brought into being in the tremendous upsurge of the birth rate beginning right after World War II. And it is those kiddies who are now in the over-60 bracket, many of the less publicized having always been more conservative, and many more having turned conservative as they aged (however much we may giggle at Jane Fonda playing a hippie grandmother in one of this summer’s more forgettable movies). In 1970, 37 percent of the voting-age population was under 35, and 63 percent was older. In 2010, only 27 percent of the voting-age population was under 35, and 73 per cent is older. Put another way, the median age of the U.S. population had gone from under 27.75 in the mid-60s to 37.2 in 2010. The other equally important caveat to Leonhardt’s euphoria is that younger people don’t vote as much as older voters do. Historically, turnout among 18- to 29-year olds ranges between 20 and 30 percent, while among those in the 30-plus bracket, turnout ranges between 50 and 60 percent.

True, Barack Obama was elected by a landslide in 2008, along with a Democratic Congress. But merely because either the professionals or the less affluent white-collar workers voted for Obama in 2008 doesn’t mean that they were necessarily liberal. In my opinion, what made the real difference that year was how the economy had gone to hell under George W. Bush, and specifically how the stock market had tanked in the months just before the election. A lot of people, from the less to the more affluent, were really scared, especially the “independents” in all classes (classes, as defined by Abramowitz & Teixeira), who’d helped put Bush into office in the first place. These people were desperate for a solution, and so they rather despairingly put their faith in Obama. Anything for a change, was the attitude on the part of the centrists that put Obama in office four years ago – and will militate against his re-election now.

THE IMPORTANCE OF LIFE EXPERIENCE

While I have every admiration for the careful scholarship of this article in the Political Science Quarterly, I also suspect that the ivory tower of academia in which these two distinguished scholars had so long occupied such elevated positions may have made it difficult for them to appreciate the full significance of the occupational shifts. I would suspect that they tend to judge the electorate by their own personal experience—as we all do, but my experience has been both inside & outside academia, inside & outside the environment in which I was raised. My experience in academia (from kindergarten through graduate school in the 70s and teaching in the 80s & 90s) is that it’s predominantly liberal and even progressive in its politics, especially among teachers in the oh-so-aptly named faculties of the liberal arts. Through my mother and her many friends, I’m also well aware that liberalism & even progressivism were & presumably still are rampant in such professional occupations as advertising, public relations, publishing, retailing and design, while my own experience as a journalist & an art critic has shown me how liberal and indeed progressive both the communications industry & the art world are. (My friend, Kenneth G. Craven, similarly puts his very varied life experience as a psychoanalytic therapist, college professor and business executive to good use in interpreting the relationship of Hamlet to St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans in his absorbing new book, Hamlet of Morningside Heights).

HOWEVER, my thirteen years on Time also included four years in its business news section, which made me abundantly aware of many occupations whose practitioners seemed to be largely, if not entirely conservative and/or Republican (not necessarily the same thing in the 50s and 60s). This was not only the case with people on whom I relied as sources and subject matter --- stockbrokers, bankers, all manner of business executives, as well as insurance and real estate agents. It was also true of people I socialized with and whose responses were apt to be colored by the information that I worked for Time, a Republican magazine. Having been raised in a progressive milieu, and still retaining many friendships within it, I learned to bear all the snotty remarks that came my way as an employee of Time, but the more deeply I got involved with that job, the more often I became aware of other people I knew socially who respected the magazine and presumably agreed with its politics. In the summers, I took a share in a group house in Quogue on the South Shore of Long Island, and used to see members of the little beach club to which I belonged reading Time at the beach.

I was also in analysis, and had come across evidence (I forget how) that a great many doctors were Republican. My analyst, in some anguish, informed me that the ONE branch of medicine which was NOT Republican were the psychoanalysts. What does that say about the rest? I knew that the American Medical Association had been largely responsible for sinking national health insurance proposals made in the 30s, 40s and even the 90s. True, it endorsed Obamacare, and the Times ran a story not long ago about how doctors in group practices and clinics are more liberal than the old-time private practitioners used to be. However, even the Times was relying only upon anecdotal evidence, and the AMA only represents between 15 and 30 percent of the nation’s doctors (depending on how you count). I try not to get involved in political discussions with my own doctors, as I don’t want anything to interfere with them giving me their best care, but from a remark I heard my dental hygienist drop not long ago, I’m pretty sure she votes Republican, and I’ve had my suspicions about several of my other medics, too. I see in the Times that some doctors contribute to Democratic causes, but I suspect such doctors are more likely to be found in true-blue areas like the Big Apple. With lawyers – especially those who want to go into politics --- I would imagine they are even more likely to take on the protective coloration of their clients & their neighborhoods, which would mean more often blue in the blue states, and with defense, medical malpractice & Legal Aid attorneys, but maybe more often red in the red states and especially with corporate lawyers & those specializing in the disposition of large estates.

Over the past four decades, the Democrats have only been able to get into office by nominating progressively more conservative Presidential candidates. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Bill Clinton were as radical as Truman, Johnson, Kennedy or FDR. Obama isn’t either, and, aside from the color of his skin, he never was. If I am less disillusioned by him now than so many liberals and progressives, maybe it’s because I had fewer illusions about him to start with. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries because I thought her positions on the issues were more liberal than Obama’s were, but he managed to get elected and it’s entirely possible that Hillary wouldn’t have made it.

THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY

Whether he can make it this time around is anybody’s guess. The economy is a problem, though neither as bad as the Republicans would have you think, or as great as the Democrats would like you to think, either. Up until this month, at least, the country has just been plodding slowly ahead. The less-publicized statistics on things like housing and manufacturing and consumer confidence that the Times reports upon in its business section haven’t invariably been showing declines -- even if they haven’t invariably been showing increases, either.

Alas, the one that gets the most publicity is the monthly report on employment & unemployment, which the BLS releases on the first Friday of the ensuing month. The May report, released on June 1, showed that employers, on balance, had added only 69,000 jobs, for an average of 96,000 over the past three months, down from an average 245,000 gain for the months from December through February (this means that the unemployment rate has ticked up .1 percent to 8.2 percent). However, the story by Shaila Dewan that carried this news in the right-hand column of the front page of the NY Times for June 2 mentioned only in passing that government employment had declined—the rest of the story was devoted to other angles, including a discussion of how the poor state of the European economy was affecting the U.S.

It took Paul Krugman, the Times's political columnist who is also an economics professor at Princeton, two weeks to analyze these statistics, but in his June 15 column, he pointed out that private employers are adding many more workers to their payrolls, and the drag on the statistics is really layoffs, especially on the state and local levels, of teachers, policemen, firemen and other government workers. These “unnecessary” employees are being forced off the payrolls because of deficits—God forbid anybody should raise taxes or accept money from the Federal government to help them out. According to Krugman, “private sector job growth has more or less matched the recoveries from the last two recessions.” The real difference is “an unprecedented fall in public employment, which is now about 1.4 million jobs less than it would be if it had grown as fast as it did under George W. Bush.”

If that trend had continued, Krugman calculated, the U.S. unemployment rate would now be only 7.3 percent, not 8.2 percent. He compared this picture with the sad state of Ireland, which has adopted a more severe program of government layoffs, and currently has a 14 percent unemployment rate. This contrast was further amplified by an article in the Times by Floyd Norris on June 16, illustrated by graphs which compared economic growth in the US with that of 13 other countries, as measured by gross domestic product, since the summer of 2008. Most of these countries were in Europe, and none of them were doing as well as the U.S. In fact, the only one doing better was Canada – where the banks in the years before the real estate bubble burst had more often refused mortgages to underfunded home buyers. Canada’s GDP is now 3.7 percent better than it was in the last quarter before the world-wide downturn began. The U.S. is up 1.2 percent, and the only other country in the plus column is Germany, with a net gain of 1.0 percent. Britain, where Conservative David Cameron has been enforcing an austerity program, is still 4.4 percent below its previous peak, and those hapless euro zone countries where the Germany’s Angela Merkel and the European Central Bank are also attempting to enforce austerity programs are mostly in even worse shape -- with Spain, still off 4.2 percent, Italy off 6 percent, Ireland off 11.8 percent, and Greece, off 15.9 percent.

Given this sorry picture, it’ s not surprising that most economists agree that budget-cutting during recessions is a poor idea. To be sure, the alternative of more government spending may result in depreciation of the currency and consequent inflation – and Krugman, in his new book, sees no harm in a rate of 5 percent inflation per year. I, being a senior on a fixed income, don’t like the prospect of inflation, but the alternative of continued economic stagnation and high unemployment is equally unpalatable, even more so. I really don’t want any more of the sort of budget-cutting that Romney & the Republicans favor, not only because the cuts always come at the expense of the less affluent members of our society, but also because this is delaying our recovery. I am sure that my Republican friends would accuse me of being hobbled by Keynesian ideology, but as I see it, they’re the ones whose conservative ideology is keeping them from seeing what’s best for the U.S.

BRIGHT SPOT ON THE HORIZON

The best news I’ve had in a long time was the announcement by MoveOn that they have finally decided to stop futzing around and instead go all out to campaign for Obama. This decision was based upon a poll of their members, who voted 91 percent in favor of it. I don’t think the remaining 9 percent favored Romney; rather, I think they are the lunatic fringe who can’t see any difference between Romney and Obama. Well, I do.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE DIFFERENCES
,
Romney opposes same-sex marriage. Obama endorses it (even if – in his centrist way -- he thinks the individual decisions should be left to the states).

Obama & the Democrats would like to continue low interest rates for student loans, to be paid for by closing a tax loophole. Romney & the Republicans promptly came up with a copy-cat bill in Congress, but they think the cost should be offset by cuts in health-care programs for lower-income women and children.

Romney is pro-life. Obama is pro-choice (even if – again, as a centrist --- he admits that making the decision to have an abortion is a painful and difficult one).

Romney is in favor of “choice” in education, meaning that parents would be free to send their children to charter schools or “private” (i.e. church-run) schools instead of public schools, and that government would pay for their education nonetheless. This would gut the public schools, subsidize organized religion and undermine most of the teachers’ unions, although nobody has yet shown that children get better educations in charter schools or parochial ones.

Romney would privatize Medicare. In fact, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed a federal budget for fiscal 2013 which provides that, beginning with people entering Medicare in 2023, seniors would receive only vouchers for the purchase of health coverage or Medicare. The vouchers would be capped to grow no faster than the increase in the gross domestic product plus 0.5 percent. As medical costs have for years outpaced overall economic growth, and are expected to continue doing so, this means that seniors will face the alternatives of paying more in premiums for a plan that provides the current Medicare basics, or else going with a lesser plan that offers fewer benefits. This seems necessary to the Republicans in order to keep the budget in balance, and preferable to streamlining Medicare, raising Medicare premiums or increasing the age at when seniors may enroll.

The Republicans have made opposition to the Affordable Care Act one of the keystones of their campaign, and have promised to repeal it if the Supreme Court doesn’t throw it out.

Other proposals that the Republican House of Representatives has enacted in its 2013 budget, ostensibly to cut the budget, include cutting $810 billion from Medicaid over ten years (a roughly 20 percent cut in 2013, rising to one-third by 2022). This would be done by converting the program into “block grants” to the states, and letting them decide how to spend the money. The Republican budget for 2013, as introduced in March, would also cut expenditures on food stamps by $133.5 billion over the next 10 years.

CURRENT THREAT

THIS BUDGET WAS ACTUALLY PASSED BY THE HOUSE, BUT REJECTED BY THE SENATE. BECAUSE NOT EVEN A BUDGET FOR NEXT YEAR HAS BEEN ENACTED, THE NATION IS CURRENTLY FACING THE POSSIBILITY THAT ACROSS- THE-BOARD CUTS OF $1.2 TRILLION WILL TAKE PLACE NEXT YEAR, AS MANDATED BY THE AGREEMENT REACHED LAST SUMMER IN THE RESOLUTION OF THE DEBT-CEILING CRISIS. THESE CUTS WOULD DECIMATE VAST AREAS OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S EXPENDITURES, FROM CANCER RESEARCH TO FARM INSPECTORS TO GRANTS TO CITIES AND STATES AND THE POLICE (THOUGH SOME ENTITLEMENTS, INCLUDING SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE, ARE EXEMPT OR VIRTUALLY UNTOUCHED). STILL, THE REPUBLICANS ARE ONLY CONCERNED ABOUT THE WAY THIS DRACONIAN LAW WOULD IMPACT UPON DEFENSE EXPENDITURES.

AND WILL IT APPEAL?

All of this talk of budget-cutting may appeal in some of those “swing states.” In the June 13 NY Times, Michael Barbaro described a Romney campaign stop in Orlando, Florida, where the candidate charged the President with being “out of touch” with ordinary people and small businesses. According to Barbaro, Romney cited a study done by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of 1,500 small businessmen, and found that three-quarters of them would be less likely to hire because of the burdens of the Affordable Care Act (what else would you expect small businessmen to say, especially to the U.S Chamber of Commerce?). Barbaro also outlined Romney’s proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act with a plan that he likened to a “consumer market,” which would allow people who bought insurance to receive the same tax breaks as businesses that purchased insurance for their employees, ensure coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, and hand control of health care over to the states. Barbaro also quoted Obama, speaking in Maryland the same day, but the quote was vaguer and less persuasive (the Times in general hasn’t been doing too well in covering Obama: although on balance it appears to favor him, it doesn’t do a very good job in explaining his positions). In this particular story, Barbaro’s conclusion (or “kicker,” to use journalistic slang) was to quote Frank Atkinson, a small business consultant and local commissioner, who attended Romney’s rally, nodded in agreement to what Romney had said, and made a snotty remark about how Obama’s speech had revealed his “true colors.” Since, as every journalist knows, the "kicker" is what stays in the reader's mind the longest, this particular story served to boost Romney's image a bit.

PLEASE FOLKS, GET OUT THERE

So, it’s anybody’s guess who will wind up in the White House next January, although I know whom I’ll be rooting for. I don’t know whether anything I’ve written will encourage any of my readers to act on his behalf– except that I hope that what I’ve said may help at least a few of them figure out how to act more wisely & fruitfully. Also, of course, I hope that some of what I’ve said may sting them into action by outlining what might happen if they don’t. A year ago, as was remarked at a recent meeting of left-wing agitators, we were comparing Obama to the Almighty, and naturally he was coming up short. Now we need to compare him to the alternative, Romney. As a dedicated Keynesian I believe that it would be disastrous for this country if that alternative comes to pass.

If you want this country to recover from its depression, I think many people need to act, and voting is the least of what most of them can and should do. If they’re good at person-to-person relations, I hope they’ll get out and help those younger voters to get registered & then call around on Election Day & encourage people to vote. But even if (like me) they’re shy and retiring, maybe they can at least scrape up a few bucks to encourage the folks more endowed with people skills to act
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