Is it going to be another Reagan landslide, with Romney tossing out Obama like Jimmy Carter? Or is there a "shift of values" in Americans like Queen Elizabeth II discerned during the outpouring of emotion at the death of Princess Diana? Is it going to be the Romney/Ryan practicality, traditional values and common sense agenda that prevail? Or will the Obama/Biden pitch win out, that promises European socialism over American exceptionalism, green platitudes and ever increasing social spending without specifying who is going to pay for it? On both sides of the issues, there is a sense something big is in the balance.
As the tectonics of the race cause shifts and rumbles in the body politic, the elephant in the room is Wall Street, the general reference used to describe the bankers, investment bankers, traders, government dominated mortgage agencies, private mortgage firms and insurance giants who brought down the economy. Yet, the responsible parties were not mentioned at either nominating convention. The Republicans could have diverted blame away from their own President George W. Bush for the debacle with an attack on the criminals who walked off with our national wealth. But they did not, leaving the path clear for the Democrats to convene a week later and lay the economic disaster on George Bush too.
This leaves Obama the crutch that he inherited the mess from a Republican that can't be fixed in a measly four years. Romney, and his number-crunching running mate, is left in the role of "work-out artiste" with skull and bones imagery on his suspenders, as novelist Tom Wolf parodied in A Man In Full, his book on the real estate driven collapse of the early 1990s.
The Obama Justice Department has not brought one case against the financial swindlers, and the Republican opposition has not called him out on it. Why? Are both campaigns frightened to confront the obscene financiers who left the US economy permanently wounded? Is it out of fear the "banksters" will retaliate and withdraw their love and money? Democrats have the best history and opportunity to attack them, but they refuse. The Republicans are usually associated with big New York money, but are they aware they could lose this critical election by allowing Obama to continue to blame George W. Bush four years later as the country continues to wallow in the slowest recovery in history?
No matter the reasons, Obama has failed to lift the economy, causing suffering and anxiety rarely experienced in go-go America. And he is making things worse in the panicked run-up to Election Day by causing the Federal Reserve (whether by direct influence, or by creating the free-fall in the economy) to pump billions into the system under the euphemism "quantitative easing", essentially printing more money - as if the US is an "emerging nation" kleptocracy.
Fed Chief Ben Bernanke says priming the pump is necessary to avoid inflation. But this has a hollow ring. Everything essential Americans buy is expensive - from gasoline to corn flakes, so what foreseeable inflation is he talking about? (Let's cut him a break and ascribe a portion of the high food costs to the grain inflation caused by the moronic mandate to force oil companies to mix corn-based bio-fuels in gasoline. But that does not account for what everyone knows: everything costs more now).
Underneath the Fed's machinations is another fallacy: inflation is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a very good thing if it comes from growth. But, as Bernanke knows, there is no real upward movement, just central state fiats or sleight-of-hand interest rate manipulation hiding behind an imaginary fear of inflation that tricks investors into thinking big growth is right around the corner. It's not difficult to see this scenario favors Obama's campaign spin.
Bernanke and the banks that control the Fed don't live in our world anymore. Their constituencies are the fund manager in Hamburg, the finance minister of China, who needs assurances to buy our sovereign debt in terms he understands. The American small to medium businessman is a non-person in this global scenario. At the rate the economy is being propped up with debt without corresponding forward movement, the reckoning is not far in the future, probably soon after the election if Obama wins.
The Republicans represent a much needed change of direction. But Romney and Ryan have to win an election, not impress Economics professors with dazzling derring-do on a chalk board. The Right in the Congress is correct that spending has to be curtailed. However, staking themselves out as no-tax Grover Norquist gnomes in every budget deliberation frightens the horses. The vast middle of the electorate describes themselves as conservative, but they respond negatively to harshness against their fellow citizens. And most understand that simply cutting everything removes the leverage needed to stimulate real growth.
Obama appointed Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to devise a plan to rescue the government from default, and then humiliated them by spurning their judgments. But the Republicans refused to take it up and stick it to Obama because the scheme laid out some spending along with cuts that could bring the federal budget in line in a decade. For every action, there is a reaction. The Democrats went too far in their never-ending addiction to government spending as the panacea for society's problems. But the Republicans in Congress may have gone too far the other way, at least politically, by its mission to cut off the arm rather than applying a tourniquet. Keep an eye on Greece, where EU receivers are strangling the patient for short term payments without allowing leverage for future growth.
If ever the United States needed a turn-around-artiste such as Mitt Romney, it's now. We think we can imagine how bad it is by gazing back on the Great Depression. But we have to keep in mind the effect of World War 11 to goose the economy back into action. At the rate the FDR administration was moving to a social welfare state caused by the economic disaster, America could easily be today a different place altogether. Under an Obama second term, we may very well find out what happens when you are unable to manage a flagging economy.
Though explosive tensions in the Muslim world are real, and the threat of a nuclear confrontation between Israel and Iran is a serious matter, there is no world war on the horizon this time to force recovery. The only solution is a change in leadership.