Saturday, November 11, 2006

Did Republican happy-talk about the economy cost them the election?

As the Republicans look at the election results and try to figure out what went wrong, they would do well to examine what they said about the economy – and how they said it.

“The economy is strong,” didn’t ring true. Not even with the Dow Jones soaring.

Evidently, the route from Wall Street to the kitchen table was a bit too surreptitious and serpentine for Joe and Mona Minivan to follow. The record earnings on the Big Board never showed up in the paycheck. The real money got siphoned off before it could trickle down.

Adding insult and a bigger co-pay to injury, employers (most of whom are perceived to be Republican) shifted a bigger share of rising healthcare costs onto employees already feeling the effects of static wages.

Globalization, union busting, huge corporate bankruptcies, and a pro-business Federal court added to uncertainty, forcing wage concessions from loyal long-term blocks of employees, shutting down manufacturing plants.

Entire pension plans disappeared down the rapacious maws of unregulated, engulf-and-devour businesses like Enron. Other companies dumped their pension plan liabilities onto the Federal government. The Republicans responded by proposing to privatize Social Security.

When campaigning Republicans cited jobs growth, Joe and Mona weren’t so sure. The new jobs they see cropping up – the jobs their kids are taking – don’t come with benefits or a sense of a secure future. They are hourly wage, strip mall and office park jobs tied a bit too closely to a tentative, consumer-driven economy. They are jobs to get by on, not jobs to get rich on – and certainly not jobs to retire from.

When campaigning Republicans cited tax cuts, Joe and Mona didn’t buy it. Their property taxes have gone up to offset the flim-flam of unfunded mandates, funding cuts and what-have-you at every level of government between Washington and their little house on the cul-de-sac.

Speaking of their little house, they’re busting their butts to hold onto it – even as the “For Sale” signs crop up and the market goes soft. Their home is their nest egg. Their biggest investment. It’s not increasing in value like it used to.

Across the board, Joe and Mona have visceral feeling that things aren’t going well. And who are they going to believe? A Department of Commerce quarterly report or their day-to-day experience trying to make ends meet?

To say that the economy is strong is to say that you don’t understand what Joe and Mona are up against. It is to say you don’t share their perspective or their experience.

In an election year, it is the same as saying “Don’t vote for me. I work for the other side.”

Which, in fact, most of the Republicans who lost bids for reelection did.

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