I've always been a political junkie. Since my earliest days as an observer and later as a participant in all things electoral, the golden rule has not changed: Love thy neighbor's wallet as though it were your own. Americans "vote their pocketbooks." I have always accepted it as a truism--doesn't everybody? Can't you just hear James Carville whispering those four magic words into Bill Clinton's ear over and over and over again in 1992... "It's the economy, stupid!"
Yale economist Ray Fair has developed a model to predict presidential election results which is based on economic considerations. It completely disregards social issues, moral questions, and fashion statements like sweater vests. And it appears that this is indeed the metric to watch. A recent Rasmussen report found in a national survey that 82 percent of likely American voters said that the economy was the most important issue.
However, in spite of this obvious truth, 2012 GOP presidential candidates and the news media that reports and analyzes their every breath seem obsessed with everything but the economy. Last week Rush Limbaugh, the High Priest of American conservatism, called a Georgetown law student "a slut" after she testified on Capitol Hill about birth control. For well over a week after Limbaugh's First Amendment moment my completely unofficial and unscientific observation is that most of the national dialogue was directed at that reprehensible comment, to the exclusion of things like the potential of war with Iran, or the teetering economy in places like Greece. I believe that Limbaugh deserved what he got---but at what cost?
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I simply can't figure out why Republicans, who are trying to win an election, keep harping about things that are likely only to hurt them, instead of focusing on the issue that always matters most. Maybe it's a function of the fact that we are only exposed to Republicans these days because they are trying to pick a nominee, but it sure seems like these guys keep throwing their aspirations into the briar patch when they could be making hay on the economy.
A few days ago another cast member of what has devolved into nothing short of a travelling clown show (albeit a more adult circus event with the departures of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain), in remarking on a speech made by the President, misquoted Obama by asserting that he wanted everyone to go to college. Mr. Santorum then proceeded to call Mr. Obama "a snob" for believing that everyone should get a college education---which, of course, is not what the President said. The use of the word "snob" also attracted a great deal of media attention (not to mention expressions of disbelief by the other guys), and for a solid week the presidential race revolved around whether or not Obama was a snob, and whether or not the use of that word was appropriate.
And then there's Seamus, the new Eeyore of American politics, riding all the way to Toronto in a cage on top of a station wagon. Since Cain and Bachmann dropped out of the race, no one has provided more fodder for the cannons of late-night comedians than poor old Seamus, ears flapping in the wind, whining miserably through the backwoods routes along the Canadian border. Seamus has become the best-known dog in America, outpacing Bo and Barney, Pluto and Ren, and even those big eyed, sad hounds in the ASPCA commercials.
Commentators are saying that the Republican predilection for dwelling on largely self-defeating insults is a result of the fact that the economy is improving--which at the moment appears to be true. This tactic is reminiscent of the old legal mantra: "If you can't beat on the facts, beat on the law. If you can't beat on the law, beat on the facts. If you can't beat on either the facts or the law, beat on the table." That said - unemployment is still quite high at 8.3 percent, consumer credit card debt is soaring, student loan debt has now eclipsed credit card debt and is ballooning into the next economy busting bubble, national debt is growing geometrically and is perhaps out of control, foreclosures are still blighting entire neighborhoods, and the one thing that everyone can agree on is that the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 should be the subject of an 18th-century style book burning. It certainly seems that there is plenty to talk about without having to resort to negative personal attacks.
The issues that really are important to consumers---jobs, education, the cost of a college education, health care---are being overlooked in favor of substance-less, mudslinging attacks that don't address problems and don't provide plans. If I am missing something, I apologize, but I have yet to hear any of the Republican contenders talk about the nuts and bolts of how they are going to make America a strong and vibrant place to live.
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And who loses? We, the American people, do. Without question, there is a lot that needs to change in the current political scene for things to get better, but we can start with some low-hanging fruit. Stop being so fascinated by the puerile ramblings of people like Rush Limbaugh, and stay on message. It's the economy, stupid!
It's as though the candidates have strapped themselves to the roof of a political system that engages in mild and often tawdry distraction in the hope that nobody notices the total lack of substantive direction or vision as it speeds down the road to the White House. Can't these guys see that they're soiling themselves and the American political process?
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.