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OBAMA’S LOST OPPORTUNITIES


In the late 1950s, I remember a fellow student at King's College (University of London), traveling to the United States for a summer job, then reporting back that it was a land of milk and honey.  Here is the question:  If the U.S. could be a land of milk and honey with the tax rates in force then, why can't those rates be reinstated now?  If they were our mushrooming budget deficit would begin to disappear, and we could begin to climb back to a measure of respectability instead of careening down a slope towards Spain, Portugal and Greece.  The same could be said of Social Security:  if there was no cut off at a little over a $100k and the tax continued at the same rate on higher incomes instead of being regressive, there would be no question of any problems with the system.  Of course, this is all pie in the sky — the reality is election funding, think tanks funded by very wealthy donors, are all aimed towards maintaining low tax rates for the wealthy with enough loopholes and lowered rates on unearned income that the wealthy are now paying less than a 20% rate, sometimes lower, which appalled Warren Buffett enough to complain he was in a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Something of course could have been done in a small way.  So why were the Bush tax cuts not allowed to lapse?  And when the tax cuts were skewed so heavily towards the rich, why the red herring of lapsing only the tax cuts for the rich?  It was common knowledge the Republicans would never agree to that one and it had no chance of passing — a political Kabuki dance perhaps, where one could appear to be fiscally responsible, and at the same time could not be accused by a Republican opponent in 2012 of having raised taxes.

This and other issues – like Israel/Palestine which always has such a small window in the election cycle that the moribund peace process has been ongoing for decades – raise the question of a single term President.  Eight years over two elections is too much.  Many lose after the first term, so the country suffers discontinuity and too-soon policy reversals.  If four years is too little and eight too much we are left with a median six.  This issue is not being raised for the first time, and it will certainly not be the last, but it is an idea that is right for our times, given the mess the country is in, and the urgent need to diminish the role played by money in politics, even if ever so slightly.

We hope it will lead to a President less preoccupied with elections, donors and political pressure groups, who can concentrate on doing his best for the vast majority of people — like an FDR for example.  There will be outliers, of course, like your Democratic predecessor with a latent retirement package in mind ($100 million and growing), or his wife, who to date has not been able to provide a convincing explanation of how she converted $1000 into $100,000 in rapid-fire commodities trading over the course of one year during their poverty stricken period in Arkansas, and why then with such consummate trading skills as would make the legendary trader Paul Tudor Jones turn green with envy, she abruptly ended her commodity trading sideline.

In 2009, this column pointed out there was a choice going forward of restoring a proper regulatory environment for banks so they would not become too big to fail, and would not through greed put the economy at risk again.  Instead we have muddled along mired in the political game offering up a toothless Dodd-Frank bill that has done little to change the financial landscape.  In healthcare, a dusted up revival of a conservative plan designed to force everyone to purchase insurance, and implemented earlier by (now likely Presidential candidate) Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, was chosen over single-payer.  In an irony of ironies, the Supreme Court in hearings on the constitutionality of the plan left the distinct impression that a single-payer plan was without doubt constitutional.

So here we are in the last lap … no FDR but a Chicago politician who intimates he is doing the best he can, but with the wrong set of advisers to be of any real help to the majority of people, or, for that matter, to really invigorate the economy.  What a pity!

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