Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mainstream America is Hurting

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found 63% of Americans have already been hurt by America's economic meltdown. From The Washington Post:

...[the] poll also found that a rapidly increasing share of Americans -- 66 percent, up from just over half a year ago -- are worried about maintaining their standard of living. Nearly two in 10 said they or someone living in their household had lost a job in the past few months, and more than a quarter said they had their pay or hours reduced. And 15 percent said that at some point in the past year they fell behind on their rent or mortgage.

The poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans support new federal spending to stimulate the economy, and majorities of both Democrats and Republicans back the idea. Concern about deficit spending, however, mutes enthusiasm for the stimulus plan. When respondents were asked whether they would back the plan if it increased the deficit, support dropped to 47 percent. Overall, nearly nine in 10 said they are worried about the size of the federal budget deficit, including nearly half who are "very concerned."

The inherent contradiction in American attitudes to taxation, spending and deficits is both deeply ingrained and a huge political obstacle for Obama. Polls taken during the Bush era showed that Americans strongly supported tax cuts and yet strongly opposed deficits without grasping that tax cuts were a major contributor to mounting deficits. It's impossible to reconcile how this attitude squares with a people who have so strongly embraced a "pay as you go" mentality. Then again when you have a vice president who boasts that "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter" it's hard to fault the average citizen for this logic disconnect.

I think if Obama's recovery efforts are to have any hope he'll have to find some way to give the American public a clear understanding of how the existing, massive federal debt represents accumulated deficits, how those deficits were incurred and the role played by reckless tax cuts, and the critical difference between the deficits of the past and the sort of deficits he'll have to run for the purpose of massively investing in America and the country's infrastructure. That's an enormous challenge but without stripping Americans of their phobia about taxation and without giving them a working grasp of the debt and deficit problems they're facing, he might not be able to hold the essential levels of public support he'll need to steer America on a path out of this huge problem.

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