It’s the economy, stupid (really?)
A long, long time ago, when the 2008 presidential campaign got underway, we all thought it was going to be about the war (the war, the war). Now, we seem to have merged out of that lane into the economy track, with our wheels grinding over the rumble strips of energy along the way.
So now, whoever looks smarter (or at least has the more emotive talking points) about gas prices, the housing and mortgage crisis, the soaring debt and how energy independence will free us from evil oil-exporting countries, well, they’ll win.
Or not. History and recent experience have told us again and again Americans don’t necessarily vote what’s best for them – or so the brain trust on either coast would have us believe. No, we respond pretty well to negative advertising and cheap stunts ” like George Bush in a flight suit. Surely a guy like that knows how to win a war, right?
Unlike fancy financial columnists and analysts, most Americans really don’t know that much about how the economy works (and I’ll admit I’m one of them). I’ve had knowledgeable people explain to me what makes currency markets tick and what interest rates do to bond prices, but five minutes after, I couldn’t relate a single point. It’s easy to point at gas prices and say “This sucks!” but will more drilling really make a dent? What about Obama’s new scheme to give everyone a $1,000 “energy rebate?” Sounds like a lot of money and … I thought we were broke?
And then there’s the question about how much a president really affects the economy. Bill Clinton left office with some pretty nice numbers, but did he create the dot-com boom? Were he to have had his two terms from 1996-2004, it’s likely his economic legacy wouldn’t look so rosy. George Bush may be an awful embarrassment of a president, but the policies of deregulation that created the mortgage disaster were in place long before he stumbled into office.
What’s a presidential candidate to do? In a word, dissemble. If Americans think it’s the economy, stupid, then the candidate must offer platitudes to suggest they can fix it very quickly ” no matter how little impact they may actually have. If polls suggested most Americans really wanted a magic hot dog that cured obesity, we’d be hearing the plan for creating that instead. It’s just politics, and we’re supposed to understand that the guys on stage are, to some extent, performing an act. If they could deliver on everything they say they could, they’d be sporting super-hero uniforms, nimbuses, or both.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time, the desire or the – dare I say it – the sophistication to get all that. The candidate photographed enjoying barbecue astride a horse with a newly-purchased cowboy hat will likely get a lot more votes than the guy trying to expound on a 114-point economic plan that might actually make a lot of sense.
So if it is the economy and there’s really not much a president can do about it, what are we to make of it all? On their face, the two ideas put forth by the candidates – create a new, sustainable energy initiative or drill a lot more – seem pretty stark in contrast. The former suggests a bold and progressive approach that might actually affect the economy in positive ways, while the latter seems decidedly old school, very 20th Century. When Election Day rolls around, maybe the true gut check is deciding between those two approaches – and trying to discern who’s doing the lesser amount of acting.
Alex Miller is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at (970) 748-2920, or firstname.lastname@example.org.