Remember who coined that lovely phrase? That would be lovely James Carville during Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign. We hear that phrase a lot today, twenty years later. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain the sentiment behind the idea. By the way, I love the fact that the rocket scientist thing has held up for so long. One would have thought it would have changed to computer scientist or molecular biologist, but no, despite the ending of the space program as we know it, we still fondly recall the rocket scientist.
With so many Americans out of work or underemployed, why wouldn’t it be the economy? With our twin wars winding down and Bin Laden dead, security has been eclipsed as a number one concern in this country. In a recent poll, a whole one percent of Americans named foreign policy as the most pressing issue of the campaign. That will last, I suggest, until it becomes the number one concern again. How’s that for rocket science? What I mean is that we have been fortunate to have no major incident on American soil in a decade, but it’s a matter of time, I believe, before our good fortune changes. Our enemies will persist.
In the latest issue of the New Yorker, David Remnick writes: There’s something strange about the backseat status often given to foreign policy in Presidential campaigns. After all, he continues, Presidents have a great deal more sway over foreign than domestic/economic policy. The House of Representatives and globalism have made sure of that.
So, how do we go about fixing this economy? I can tell you two things that won’t work over the long term: lower taxes and increased government spending. I do believe we need to begin to shrink our deficit and decreasing governmental revenue will not help here. The latest figures on Rick Perry’s flat tax suggest government revenues would decline about $1.7 trillion dollars over ten years. Hardly revenue neutral. On the other hand, I see little evidence that heating up the economy with government spending does much in the long run. I guess I remain a little bitter that I missed the cash for clunkers window.
I don’t think there is anything like a free lunch. I hate the idea that we believed we could fight two wars without ALL of us sacrificing, even just a little bit. In the lower taxes versus spend more money debate, I come out on the side of attacking our deficit by raising taxes for those most able to pay and decreasing spending in ways that does not terribly injure those most unable to care for/educate themselves. Hardly radical. Isn’t that America’s social contract, after all?
But all this deficit talk doesn’t do one thing (as far as I can tell) for jump-starting our economy. The truth about our economy is a painful one. The collapse of the old world economic order is here and it’s not going away. American workers are increasingly poorly prepared to compete in the global economy. Our education system is broken and it has been for decades. See James S. Coleman’s Report of the Equality of Educational Opportunity, 1966; or the Reagan-commissioned report: A Nation at Risk, 1983. Vast numbers of Americans simply do not have the skills to compete in 2011. In the global economy in which we live today, unskilled jobs will continue to be performed by those willing to work for the lowest of wages, either abroad or here. And far too many Americans have not been appropriately educated to compete for much other than unskilled jobs (see our disaster that we call K-12 education). Who among the presidential candidates is talking about that issue? I honestly don’t see a short term solution to our economic woes. We can, however, decide to re-tool America’s workforce through a re-commitment to a quality education for everyone. Nothing simple about that. Nothing short-term about that.
At Oglethope, I know we are producing the kinds of employees and leaders this country needs. People who can think on their own, who can communicate both with the spoken and written word, who can reason and be reasonable. People who will be nimble as the world continues to shift before our very eyes. But we are an exception today and even a select college like Oglethorpe sees far too many students arriving who have not been sufficiently prepared by their K-12 education. That’s where we have to start to fix our country. We have refused to make this commitment for nearly a half century, so what’s different today? Sadly, I am not sure.