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The Presidential Election of 2012, Part 2: Putting Aside Partisanship

By Oliver DeMille

This is Part Two of a two-part series. Read Part One here.

Away from Arrogance

With a Republican House, we now get to see if President Obama is only ideological (as some people claim) or if he has the ability to be a pragmatist.

It is possible that President Obama is a pragmatist, but that he simply believes his own press. His inner-circle supporters have said he is so intelligent that “he’s never been intellectually challenged.”

The President may not adopt such a smug view, but the Administration’s talking point that Democrats only lost the election because the White House didn’t communicate well (doublespeak for “the voters just don’t get it”) is reinforcing this view of the Obama Administration’s arrogance.

The Administration is saying that the American people like Obama’s policies, such as health care, but that they are simply upset with the pace of economic recovery and weary of partisan battles (double speak for “they don’t have the stomach for the political process”).

“Our policies were right on,” this argument goes, “but we did a poor job explaining our agenda.” This mantra is repeated by many Administration officials, including the President.

Democrats of course tend to accept this view, and on the opposite extreme Republicans would like the President to come out vocally against health care—which will never happen.

But the most poignant political reality is that this White House mantra sounds to independents a lot like the following:

“We did the right thing for the American people, but they just aren’t smart enough to realize it. We’ll just have to be patient with these uninformed American voters while we lead them along slowly toward what they really need.

“Our polices may need a few tweaks, like all major policies do, but they were right on. America should be praising our leadership in bringing them universal health care!”

“It was an embarrassment in front of truly informed people (like Europeans and Ivy Leaguers) that the U.S. didn’t have mandatory health care, and we fixed that! The midterm votes were not against our policies, just frustration with a slow economy among hard-working but unsophisticated voters.”

The White House isn’t saying these things, exactly, but it seems like they are.

If, as the White House seems to believe, so erudite and articulate a man as our sitting President lost the House because he didn’t couch his message in a way the people could understand, isn’t this just another way of saying that the masses aren’t smart enough to get it?

Independents, who determine modern elections, believe the election of 2010 was a call for:

  • No tax hikes;
  • A cut back of the big-spending portions of health care;
  • Lowered government debt and the end of deficits;
  • Reduced regulations on small businesses;
  • Reduced government spending.

Above all, it was a call for reduced government spending.

When the average government employee in America makes $120,000 a year while the private sector average is $60,000, with 9.6 percent unemployment at a time that government is hiring more employees, government spending is clearly out of control.

Small businesses are laying off and shutting down in large part because of the rising regulatory cost of doing business, and they are watching those with government jobs getting increased budgets.

(And the irony is even more poignant when we consider that the job description of many of those with expanding government-funded budgets was to define and enforce regulations on private sector employers and employees.) That’s what the vote was about.

If the Obama Administration doesn’t get this message, it doesn’t understand independents. Independents voted against Democrats in 2010 because they want the economy fixed, and they see health care as the major obstacle to significant economic recovery.

They realize that President Obama can’t turn on his own health care law, which is exactly why they turned to Republicans. Where they turn in the 2012 election will depend on whether the Obama Administration goes on a massive government cost-cutting and regulation-cutting push in the next two years.

Whatever direction President Obama takes, one option is to end certain foreign interventions and bring the troops home. Ironically, Obama will probably have more support for this now with more right-wing and even Tea Party members in Congress.

If we had spent the 3 trillion dollars used up in Afghanistan and Iraq on incentivizing and seeding American entrepreneurial ventures, where would unemployment and our economy be right now?

Or what if we had never taxed or borrowed the trillion dollars in the first place—just left it in the economy instead?

The combined 2009-2010 deficits were $2.9 trillion, less than the cost of our Middle East interventions. Certainly we should afford operations which truly protect our national security, but did it really take $3 trillion to do this?

Of course, we’ll never know the exact answers. But clearly the economy would be at a better place.

As for national security, more people are now asking which makes us stronger against terrorism—thousands of troops and $3 trillion spent in the Middle East or a booming U.S. economy?

More and more it seems that the interventions, for all their anecdotal successes, were animated by the need to save face—from start to finish. When those towers came down we had to respond; of course we did.

But the perilous and labyrinthine issue of America’s War on Terrorism seems to be a never-ending vicious cycle of losing and saving face.

Military options should deal with direct threats, and we should put our nation-building efforts and capital to work at home.

Washington spends more on national security than China, Russia, Japan, India and Europe combined ( Foreign Affairs, November/December 2010, p. 30)—even as our soldiers and vets lack some of the basics needs and care.

And the quagmire that is our Middle East war theater is a one-step-forward-four-steps-back debacle; meanwhile, our own citizens are being subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures for simple domestic travel.

This is the epitome of imperial overreach and a broken policy of national security. Certainly some of these massive and ineffective expenditures can be cut while still maintaining the strongest national defense in the world. Hopefully we can apply these lessons in the next two years and beyond.

The President can also recommend an immediate 5 percent cut to everything in the federal budget, and a 10 percent cut to all government salaries above the private-sector average of $60,000 per year.

Republicans would be called reckless for such an act, but the President would be called an aggressive leader who really cares about the economy. He has already suggested an end to the small business-killing 1099 requirements in the health care law, which is a good move.

He can do more if he stops advancing the line that he just didn’t sell his message better and instead vocally listing out other positive “tweaks” to health care and other regulations—all in the name of helping small business.

A powerful White House talking point could be, for example:

“America needed Health Care reform and we are glad we did it, but it needs some changes to really work. I propose that we cut…”

President Obama could list 10 things that need to be changed in the law and energetically get to work altering them. And he could identify specific cuts to government spending in big ways, and sell the reduced cost as he promotes the changes.

Now that’s leadership. In effect he would be saying, “I hear the American people. I still believe in health care, but I know we can make it even better through wise cuts; as a servant of the people I’m going to lead out in this reform that the voters have demanded. Come on, Republicans, let’s make these changes right away!”

Here is what independents would hear: “I may have seemed like an ideologue before, but with Democratic leadership of the White House and both houses in Congress I wanted to push for as much as I could.”

“That’s just smart politics. But now the people have spoken, and I’m humbled and listening. They want less government spending, and as their leader I’m not going to sit around and wait for the other party to set the agenda.”

“I’ve heard what the voters have to say, and it’s time to get to work. Let’s start by changing certain big-spending items in health care, and then let’s get to work on deregulating small business and rebooting the economy.”

“I hear you, voters. And I believe in you. This is a democracy, and I’m going to lead the people in the direction they really care about. Let’s get to work.”

Incentives Matter Most

In the election passion of 2012, will jobs, China and Health Care still be the issues that elicit voter anxiety, fear and fervor? Two years is an eternity in electronic-age politics.

Iran, Israel, India, North Korea, Europe and other themes could rise to the top. A third party could arise and sway the entire political landscape like the rise of the Federalists, Democrats, Whigs, and Republicans did at earlier decision-points in history.

Unless a serious re-incentivizing of small business does occur, the issues may well be major financial challenges like increasing fears of a depression.

People are hurting in this economy a lot more than Washington admits. Consumers are loathe to spend, and most families have far less discretionary money than before 2008.

When Democrats continue to ask if America really wants to go back to the failed policies of the Bush years, a lot more Americans are comparing their life now to 2001-2008 and answering, “Yes, please.”

They don’t mean it in a technical way, perhaps, but they do want their prosperity back. If they thought the Republicans could really offer it, the 2010 election would have been an even bigger swing to the right.

Americans are feeling less and less faith in the policies of the Democrats that got us where we are now. The White House can greatly impact this by re-incentivizing growth and global investment in U.S. business. If it doesn’t, Barack Obama rather than George Bush will be blamed for the second Great Depression.

Unemployment. China. Health Care.

Barring some major change in the world (like a legitimate third party, a great depression, another 9/11-like event, or a detonated weapon of mass destruction, etc.), this will be the 2012 campaign slogan of Republicans and independents.

And this could make the Republican gains of 2010 seem small in comparison. But even conservatives don’t really want this path—they’d prefer to see Obama really help reboot the economy long before 2012.

The Obama Administration has the chance to truly lead by re-booting the private sector and therefore the economy. If it does, President Obama will probably go down in history as one of the greatest American presidents.

He is not popular now, but the policies of the next two years (not the last two) will determine his legacy.

The challenge, of course, is that Barack Obama isn’t a private small-business owner. He can only significantly boost such owners with drastically decreased levels of regulation and government spending—the real test of whether he’s mainly a politician-ideologue or a pragmatic and visionary leader.

As President Obama considers his strategy for what’s ahead, he should seriously contemplate this: As small business goes in the next two years, so goes his presidency, his leadership, and the nation.

For more on the big themes and issues in the coming years, see Oliver’s latest book, FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

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Oliver DeMille is the founder and former president of George Wythe University, a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd Online.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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The Presidential Election of 2012, Part 2: Putting Aside Partisanship