Dems’ Progressive Agenda Has a Hawkish Twist
Policy + Politics

Dems’ Progressive Agenda Has a Hawkish Twist

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – President Obama and the Democratic Party depart their rain-soaked three-day convention having accomplished what they set out to do – offering an effective and coherent rejoinder to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s claims that Americans are worse off than four years ago because of the president’s failed economic policies.

A parade of surrogate speakers stayed relentlessly on message. The president inherited a mess caused by the ruinous policies of the previous administration and an economy losing over 700,000 jobs a month. Within a year of his policies taking effect, the economy stopped hemorrhaging jobs. And since it hit bottom, private employers have added 4.5 million jobs – not enough to bring down the unemployment rate to acceptable levels, but a start.

More importantly, Obama’s acceptance speech articulated a vision for where he wants to take the country over the next four years, drawing a sharp contrast with his GOP opponent. Former president Bill Clinton described the Romney approach as a “winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own” economic philosophy.  Romney will reduce government spending by slashing domestic government programs while increasing defense spending in spite of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down. He will not raise taxes on the wealthy.  Obama will increase the government’s investment in education and infrastructure, help American business compete in an increasingly globalized economy and make the tax system fairer by raising taxes on the wealthy.

“On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties,” the president said. “It will be a choice between two different paths for America, a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”

For Americans hungry for a more robust economic recovery, the approaches offered by the candidates couldn’t be more different. Romney says he would create jobs by unleashing the power of small business and entrepreneurs through lower taxes and less regulation. Obama would invest in people, through education, training and support for science and new technology. Rebuilding the middle class from the bottom up is the way to spur economic development, he says.

Romney, a Harvard-trained lawyer and business school graduate who touts his career as a leveraged buyout and corporate turnaround specialist at Bain Capital, says progress comes from allowing markets to perform their magic unhindered by government intervention. He wrote an op-ed during the 2009 financial crisis opposing extension of the loan program to General Motors and Chrysler. He would allow home foreclosures to run their course as the best way to clear the market.

For Obama and the Democrats, these are the failed policies of the past. Convention speakers blasted the financial deregulation that force-fed a housing bubble and the financial shenanigans that led to its eventual collapse. Republicans, on the other hand, say Democrats are to blame for loosening credit and down payment requirements for working and middle-class families. 

To defend the efficacy of government intervention, speaker after speaker pointed to the renewed success of the U.S. auto industry and the sharp rebound in car sales that created a quarter million new jobs.There will be ample opportunity for the two candidates to articulate their competing economic visions during the head-to-head debates. What is less clear for the nearly 6,000 delegates here who repeatedly shouted “four more years” is whether their enthusiasm for Obama’s vision for renewing economic vibrancy will translate into the grass roots activism that is critical to turning out young, poor and minority voters, many of whom vote sporadically.

Unemployment is stuck above 8 percent and disproportionately hits each one of those groups, who along with women gave America’s first African-American president a hefty 53 percent majority in 2008 – the most for any Democratic candidate since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964.

Obama campaign insiders say the ferocious ground campaign that marked his meteoric rise to prominence has been slower to emerge this year for a simple reason. In 2008, he ran more than two dozen primary campaigns on his road to the nomination, which helped create an enthusiastic nationwide network of volunteers. This year, they’ve been rebuilding that infrastructure with paid organizers whose handiwork will hit the ground running in the final two months of the campaign.

One group that is mobilizing in greater number than four years ago are the nation’s teachers, who have absorbed 300,000 job cuts at the local level and seen their collective bargaining rights challenged by Republican governors. The National Education Association has organized 21,000 “educators for Obama” and is making a special effort to recruit young members to the campaign. “We have more people working now than in 2008,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA. “The choice is so clear this year.”

Yet the same is true for the other side when it comes to social issues. The Democratic convention featured numerous speakers defending women’s right to choose, gay marriage and the president’s repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Grass roots social conservatives may be dismayed by Romney’s lukewarm and belated embrace of their issues, but they have the capacity to mobilize thousands of grass roots volunteers in swing states and the DNC convention gave them plenty of motivation to begin knocking on doors.

Obama took a major risk during his acceptance speech, and that could affect the remainder of the campaign. He called for reducing the national debt by $4 trillion over the next decade – a specific goal not usually associated with boisterous Democratic Party conventions. But with national polls showing trillion dollar annual deficits and a skyrocketing debt a major concern, the president clearly felt the need to speak out on the issue.

Similar comments by Clinton the night before have already provoked dismay on the left. “Clinton essentially signed Obama onto a version of the Simpson-Bowles agenda, which promises debilitating cuts in domestic programs, cutbacks in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in return for ‘tax reform’ that lower rates on the top for the wealthy and corporations,” Rob Borosage, co-director of the left-leaning Campaign for America’s Future wrote Thursday. “That’s a grand bargain even the old dawg can’t sell.”

In raising the issue, Obama opened himself up to having to sell it on the campaign trail over the next two months. If Democratic Party insiders are to be believed, it’s a debate they think they can win. Romney’s promises to cut taxes, raise defense spending and restore the cuts to Medicare while lowering the deficit fail the basic test of arithmetic, as Clinton put it during his speech.

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy,” Obama said in his acceptance speech. “I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

He then cited the constant experimentation that marked Frank D. Roosevelt’s approach to digging out from the Great Depression. FDR, he might have noted, was the last president to get reelected with more than 8 percent unemployment.