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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.

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What Went Wrong?                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Nov/01/2010 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Politics & Gov,

We are one day away from the 2010 midterm elections and they are more contested than virtually any midterm elections I can remember. You might even ask; “Why write about this…it will be history tomorrow evening?” There is no doubt that by tomorrow evening this election will be in the books so to speak, but history has a way of repeating itself. I think it is fundamentally important to look, study, and learn from this election since we are going to see these circumstances unfold again at some point.

Two years ago as our US national economy and to some extent the global economy was melting down we had the 2008 national elections. The auto industry was a wasteland of unsold cars, the housing market was weighted down by a foreclosure rate not seen in anyone’s lifetime and the national unemployment rate was hovering around 10% with some markets quite a bit higher (some say the unemployment rate was closer to 17% when you include those who have stopped looking). In a wave of frustration over the political “status quo” a Republican majority congress was swept aside for a new Democratic congress. The upper house (the Senate) even possessed for a short while a rare “super-majority’. Barak Obama, a freshman senator also gained the Whitehouse. Obama’s campaign message, while lacking specifics was a promise of “Hope and Change”. With the anxiety level and distrust for long term professional politicians at its highest level in years…this was the perfect story and the outcome was predictable.

A U.S. Congress is generally measured by the amount of legislation that they are able to pass. By those standards the congress of the last two years might be considered one of the most successful of the last 75 years. They bailed out FannieMae & FredieMac, They accomplished a national budget on time, passed legislation for mortgage loan reform, major banking reform, an economic stimulus reform package and the largest healthcare reform act seen in the last 50 years. Dozens of smaller bills were debated, amended and successfully passed. By most standards this could be considered an extremely successful congress.

Yet, watching the news it would appear that we are on the verge of sweeping changes on Capitol Hill. While it is doubtful that the republicans will win a “super-majority”, they are clearly looking at retaking a simple majority control along with control of all the major committees despite the success of this congress. As the democratic leadership spins their heads in stunned confusion the question is being asked over and over again “what went wrong?”

In virtually any other election season the seated democrats would be feeling proud of their accomplishments of the last two years and by association, secure in their re-election bids during the mid-term cycle. This brings us back to the title “What Went Wrong?” The obvious answer is unemployment. Once in power this congress attacked many of their nagging agenda items that democratic leaders had been salivating over for many decades. Whether you agree with the solution or not, there is no question that our healthcare system had reached end of life for many Americans. After the near collapse of the financial system, change and new regulation were obviously needed to plug holes created by a variety of new and complex financial vehicles that feel outside existing rules and regulations. Unfortunately, none of these actually put people back to work. The frustration built to a boiling point when the sitting congress passed their sweeping healthcare reform and spent an enormous amount of energy congratulating themselves before a television audience of the unemployed. Yes, I know that congress gave out stimulus money to everyone, but even here they dropped the ball. Rather than sending out checks to everyone (modest as they might have been), which would have put something tangible in their hands, they offered up a reduced payroll tax. Spread over many pay periods the money went virtually un-noticed. Still worse, for the already unemployed there was no check. It was a little bit like the salesman trying to sell you new tires for a car whose engine is blown and is now being consumed by the weeds.

I know, short of a massive socialized public works program, nothing was going to or is going to put 10 million people back to work in 18 months or less. Even this is not a good solution anymore since we are not a country of general labor anymore. I don’t even want to imagine what a program of that scale would cost, but for obvious reasons that was not and did not happen. The current animosity over seated elected officials is essentially a referendum against a political system that has shown itself to be out of touch with main street America.

Timing and shooting at the right target are everything in politics. Despite accomplishing a great deal the first 2 years of President Obama’s administration, we have been burden by naggingly high level of unemployment and no clear path forward. I am smart enough to know that there is no good and fast solution, but toasting your successes that don’t solve the most immediate crisis only show how disenfranchised our elected officials have become. There are obvious lesson to learned here for politicians that will be timeless, but then again, politicians have a way of repeating their mistakes. I am drawn to the storied image of Nero playing the violin while Rome burned.

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Gertrude Stein
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