From the very beginning of his campaign for the 2012 Republican Party Presidential Nomination, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has struggled to ensure his conservative "street cred". Even after his one-time rival for that same nomination, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (the very man who famously dubbed Romney as "a Massachusetts Moderate" who couldn't beat President Barack Obama come November), had been quoted- a few weeks back now- as noting [y]ou have to think of Romney as having a foot in the Tea Party and a foot in the Establishment: that's right where the Republicans want him, Romney still has had those many skeptics within the Grand Old Party who, deep in their proverbial "heart of hearts", still suspect he himself is still- in his own "heart of hearts"- a R I N O [Republican In Name Only], that pejorative epithet many a conservative (in particular, those from a more doctrinaire [if only in their own minds] conservative wing or faction of the GOP or portion of the Nation)- so easily, at times- applies to those said conservatives appearing, to themselves, to be much too moderate in rhetorical tenor or tone, where not also political ideals or belief.
Simply put: Governor Romney may very well have one foot in the Tea Party and the other in the Establishment but, besides the foot in the Tea Party ever having the potential to- instead- have him but more ensnared in the political equivalent of an animal trap, Romney damn well knows that his battle with Obama over the remaining now less than 3 months before the General Election itself is for the Center of American Polity, not the Right he has had to reassure, where he cannot persuade, in order to capture his Prize as the Major Party challenger to the incumbent President this coming Fall.
At the same time, however, Romney still has to energize that Republican base on the Right (including Tea Party supporters, where he might not also be able to also so galvanize recalcitrant supporters of Congressman Ron Paul's failed bid for this year's GOP Presidential Nomination) in order to make the upcoming Republican National Convention- convening a mere two weeks after I type these very words- his Convention and, thereby (if only for the duration), the Republican Party US his Party-- that which Romney will thereafter be well able to lead headlong into political battle as its standard-bearer.
To this end, Romney's naming of Congressman Paul Ryan [Republican of Wisconsin] as his choice to be his Vice-President should Romney be elected President in the upcoming Election can simply (as it generally has been by many) seen as Romney's having chosen- for the National GOP Ticket- the latest conservative Republican wunderkind who can much better (and with, perhaps, more credibility than Romney himself) declaim upon those issues which, in fact, do well energize the GOP base.
Whether or not having Ryan on the ticket is of real benefit to Governor Romney's chances to be elected President in November, the barest truth about Presidential Election 2012 (even more so now that we actually know the names of all the major players: Obama/Biden vs. Romney/Ryan) is that it is- as it ever would be and, indeed, has been (pretty much ever since the 2010 Midterm Elections)- mostly about the following:
1. Political Positioning: Cynics can be forgiven for thinking that both Major Parties are acting, primarily, on the hypothesis (or it is more a gamble?) that, in 3 years or so, there will be that proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" of Economic Downturn (that is: if we are not, by then, already heading out of that "tunnel") and that whosoever might have their hands on the Levers of Political Power at that time (that is: whoever is put in charge, by the American electorate, of "stoking the boiler" as the "train" begins to leave the "tunnel") will gain credit for having solved (or, at least, being in the process of solving) the current economic crisis, no matter what they do-- or, for that matter, don't do-- with all due political rewards accruing in at least the next few elections afterwards.
And- sad to say- there is all too much truth in such thought!
2. Who is to most Bear the Pain?: Until the United States of America emerges from the economic crisis "tunnel" (or, at least, until the "light" at its end can be most clearly discerned), there will be much economic pain yet to come and it will not be distributed at all evenly: despite each Major Party- and its candidates- so stoically declaiming "We're all in this together", the fact remains that we're not "all in this" equally. (Put another way: everyone aboard the Titanic was in life-threatening danger during that horrible "Night to Remember" now just over a century ago but this did nothing to alter the fact that some passengers were in First Class whilst others were in Steerage and that, despite the self-sacrifice [albeit largely on grounds of an idealized sense of personal Honor rather than in a spirit of the purest Humanitarianism] of many a First Class [almost always] male adult, all too many in Steerage still drowned!)
Each Major Party claims that it, alone, is arguing on behalf of the Middle Class (while the other Major Party, whatever its own supporters might have to say on the same score, is- in reality- doing the very opposite). The problem here is with the average American's notion of just what constitutes that Middle Class:
I happen to have a personal acquaintance who is a conservative Republican with a low 6-figure annual income who feels (and this is something that makes him quite angry, actually) that the 'Occupy' movement considers him to be within their "1 percent" (mostly because of his profession being in the financial sector of the economy, combined with where- and in what- he lives): he, on the other hand, considers himself Middle Class ("I'm not that wealthy", he tells me); on the other hand, I also have an acquaintance who is a liberal Democrat with a low mid 5-figure annual income (indeed, his is not really all that far above the annual income definition of Poverty) who clearly sees himself as Middle Class as well.
These two people don't happen to know each other (indeed, they move in quite different circles-- but for their each knowing me there would be no other reason for me to even mention them in the same sentence under ordinary circumstances) but the Republican in this example will acknowledge (albeit somewhat begrudgingly [in a tone that yet suggests something of a difference in "station", for lack of a better term]) that the Democrat is no less Middle Class than he; meanwhile, the Democrat is not all that accepting of the fact that the Republican might "really" be Middle Class (the Republican- when apprised of this last- indicated, to me, that he sees this as the very underpinning of that "class warfare" within American Politics for which conservatives so often blame liberals). No matter, however: for, in each case, neither believes the other would vote according to the respective political- and especially economic- interests of either (that is: the Republican presumes that the Democrat will, for the most part, vote against [at least most of] that which the Republican stands for and vice versa) and, in addition, neither can at all understand how the other can so vote against the very interests of an idealized (idealized in each of their own minds, that is) American Middle Class (each here- if only for sake of the argument I had pressed upon both of them- assuming both to be, in fact, Middle Class).
In essence, then, what is involved here is not so much Class Warfare as it is intraClass political battle!
Admittedly, the above is- obviously- wholly anecdotal and my two acquaintances are, certainly, not necessarily representative of their respective political and economic demographics as a whole (although- from what I have been reading, seeing and hearing [via both the Mainstream Media and, even more so, the so-called Blogosphere outside it, let alone gleaned from conversations on Politics with other friends and acquaintances of mine of various and sundry political and economic stripes]- their respective views on 1. who is, and who is not, part of the Middle Class of which they see themselves a part and 2. the relation of same to the general American political landscape are not all that atypical!).
In addition, personal economic circumstances- even in an election in which the Economy is, seemingly, going to be the principal Issue of the Day- do not alone determine voting behavior (for there will be many, regardless of economic circumstances, who will vote their respective political "gang colors" in any event: for example, the working poor person who is socioculturally conservative and, therefore, is not going to vote for a President who- among other things- now openly supports, among other things, legalized Gay Marriage; the quintessential "limousine liberal"- whether in Hollywood or the 'Silk Stocking' District of Manhattan- who demurs from outright slapping an 'Obama/Biden 2012' bumper sticker on the back of the limo itself only because such a thing would be so "tacky" or even gauche).
But none of the above changes the facts that 1. both Major Parties are the more targeting the Middle Class voter (via an argument that it best can preserve, protect and defend the American Dream [as perceived by that Middle Class] that the other Major Party can't-- or won't-- or, perhaps, doesn't even believe in in the first place) and 2. in the end, come Election Day itself, they each are going to get the lion's share of support from their Middle Class (that is: their own more devoted supporters within that Middle Class [whatever that means, of which more later] as a whole).
One of the classic definitions of Gross Domestic Product is, in its simplest form, GDP= C + I + G [in which C= (private sector) Consumption, I= (private sector) Investment and G= Government Spending (that is: consumption and investment utilizing public revenues)]. More complex- through being more specific- versions of this particular GDP model give, among other things, greater weight to Government Spending on long-term improvements (such as building and maintaining public infrastructure [for example, Highways-- without which there is no national, or even regional, Economy within the United States of America!]) as opposed to mere 'pork barrel' "throwing good money after bad" (whatever that- subjectively- might mean: the new county park just beyond the houses across the street from me might well be worth my county property tax dollars but I'm not all that sure how people living some 15 to 20 miles away on the other side of my county [who, very likely, will not ever use this park as much as I might due to proximity of residence, or lack thereof!] might feel about this aspect of local Government Spending [then again, some years ago, *I* helped pay for a county park closer to them that they use and which I have never been to-- so there! ;-)]... this same mode of thinking, by the average American [of whatever Party or political ideology), is applicable to the State- and even Federal- level).
Government Spending (of whatever kind) aside, the two more important keys to Gross Domestic Product (and its increase, or decrease, over time) are, therefore, Consumption and Investment.
One of the classic symptoms of an economic downturn is a concomitant drop in Consumption: obviously, those who have lost their jobs have, as a result, a serious crimp in their Disposable Income stream while many of those who still have a job (but see their neighbors losing theirs) begin to cut back on their household spending, as best they can, just in case (here putting aside those all too many cases in which someone still has that job because they cut back on hours worked in order to [hopefully-- perhaps] forestall possible layoffs and staff cuts, such cutbacks in hours worked also engendering a consequent cut in Disposable Income). Consumption is only going to rise (hopefully- depending, of course, on the relative health of GDP's other two components at the same time- bringing Gross Domestic Product, as a whole, up with it) when people are, once again, economically secure (such "security" being more within one's own mind) enough to spend money on things they are not necessarily forced to spend money on (such as spending down Debt [and associated Interest]: for such is not included in Consumption; after all, one "consumed" at the moment one purchased the item re: which debt might have been accrued-- the credit card transaction going through while one is still in the checkout line is "consumption", not the subsequent [perhaps even extra-- that is: beyond the actual price of the item purchased] spending needed in order to pay off the resultant credit card debt!)
But what about Investment?
One of the few American economic statistics of late actually helpful to President Obama's re-election chances is the Dow Jones Industrial Average (much like Batting Average in Baseball being the overall mark used to judge a hitter's prospects, a statistic widely seen as the age-old American answer to the question "How'd the [Stock] Market do today?"-- and, again like Batting Average, it can- nonetheless- be much misused where not also highly overrated... but I digress!). Currently hovering around 13000 as I type this, the "DJIA" (or, more colloquially, "the Dow"- here conveniently forgetting that there are other Dow Jones marketing averages re: Transportation stocks and Utilities, let alone the myriad of competitors to "the Dow" spawned by the business world's equivalent of Baseball's "sabermatricians" [a term coined via actually pronouncing the acronym SABR for 'Society for American Baseball Research']) is doing quite well compared to where it was at the time President Obama was inaugurated:
Back on Tuesday 20 January 2009, "the Dow" opened at 8280 (rounded) and closed at 7948 (rounded)- a drop of 332 points, or just about 4 percent of its opening value (in fact, this was the largest ever percentage drop in the DJIA on the day of a President's inauguration [and the Dow has now been calculated for 29 Presidential Inauguration days, as the average dates back to 1896])... a few conservative political pundits and commentators have even gone so far as to opine that this was, at least in large part, a reaction to the prospect of the then-new Obama Administration being largely anti-business but research of contemporaneous accounts of this event suggests quite the opposite!
Mainly, the financial sector components within the New York Stock Exchange tanked (some stocks re: banks and other financial institutions lost high single and low double digit percentages on that one day alone) and took "the Market" down with them... but why?
In large part, it was in reaction to the report- the day before- of huge (billions of dollars worth of) mortgage related losses accrued by the Royal Bank of Scotland (this combined with the British pound sterling falling to alarmingly low levels, triggering fears- at the time- that the UK might be forced to actually nationalize its banks [Labour's Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury back then]); however, the most telling comment explaining what had just happened was provided by an analyst for one of America's larger banks who was widely quoted:
"Banks and other financial institutions are afraid they might now have to raise capital on their own [emphasis mine: REB-A]"...
in other words: far from being the reaction of conservative (where not also stodgy) Financial Overlords to a new (in their own opinions) quasi-European-style neo-Socialist occupant of the White House meddling too much in their business, those who ran the financial sector (into the ground? [;-)]) feared, instead, that the government bailouts of that sector (exemplified by President George W. Bush's "Johnny Come Lately" TARP- the 'Troubled Asset Relief Program'- enacted just about a month before the Presidential Election that Barack Obama would, as it turned out, win [it might also be germane here to point out that, at its close on the very day the bailout was approved by Congress and quickly signed into Law by the second President Bush, the Dow stood at 10325 (rounded)-- simply compare this to the Dow a mere 3 1/2 months later when Obama took office [already cited above]) might not be so generous under the new President after all...
put another way: rather than a reaction to too much Government interference with the Financial World, the Stock Market meltdown on Obama's first day in office was- in reality- a response to there possibly being, from then on, too little such Government action! (Of course, and as we all now know, the Obama Administration itself continued the "Bailout Ball", thereby proving such fears unjustified).
Fair perspective, however, demands an at least somewhat longer view of things:
This past 9 August, many economists and financial analysts marked what they see as the 5th Anniversary of the true start of the current economic crisis: for, on Thursday 9 August 2007, an even greater (in actual numbers) drop in the DJIA took place-- a drop of 387 points in a single day (although, unlike what took place on Obama's Inauguration Day less than a year and a half later, the percentage drop was under 3 percent, as the Dow both opened and closed well above 13000 that day).
That particular Stock Market meltdown was also largely due to bad news within the financial sector coming in from overseas: that morning, BNP Paribas- a French bank- announced serious losses related to their holding of loans underpinning American subprime mortgages (BNP Paribas wasn't alone among European banks in such a "pickle", but it was the most notable; in retrospect, then, the losses announced by the Royal Bank of Scotland just before Barack Obama took office as US President were just another in a chain of such announcements going back to 9 August 2007). In what simply has to be the understatement of the early 21st Century, a spokesman for Countrywide Financial- then the leading mortgage lender in the United States- noted that, because debt markets were (this spokesman's own words) experiencing unprecedented disruptions, that institution's ability to keep such loans (those related to subprime mortgages) on its own account (but doing so only because no one else was any longer silly enough to so willingly take these off Countrywide's hands) was (again quoting this spokesman) not unlimited.
Immediately in reaction to all this, the Central Banks of the 'Euro zone'- followed by the United States' own Federal Reserve- began pumping billions of dollars into the financial sector in order to staunch (or so it was hoped) the freezing of credit (though, in the main, credit eventually froze anyway ["I'll start loaning money again after you do"; "No, you go first!" ;-)]-- hence, if only eventually, TARP [as already mentioned above]).
The reason for my bringing this all up is to better back up my now pointing out two things:
1. In President Obama's favor (so long as we ever remember the American political rubric that Presidents of the United States- much like Baseball Managers or Head Coaches in other Sports- get either credit or blame for things they did not necessarily, nor directly, do): 13000 (give or take)- as compared to where the Dow was on the day he took office (regardless of whether one cites the Open or the Close of that date) is no little profit for investors in a little over 3 1/2 years (just under, or over, 160 percent-- depending);
but 2. on the other hand (and to Obama's own detriment), 13000 (give or take) is still below even the close back on 9 August 2007 when this whole financial morass (at least according to some economic notables) first began-- in addition, the Dow itself has been floundering between 12000 and 13000 (again, give or take) for several months now (plus: the very sustainability [or not] of its very recent jump over 13000 is, as of this typing, yet to be seen).
In short: the Market for Investment has, for all intents and purposes, well stagnated (after having grown- albeit in often maddening fits and starts- over the 3 years previous) throughout the entire Spring- and now well into the Summer- of 2012!
Of course, just how the Investment component of American Gross Domestic Product might (or might not) be doing is of at least colder comfort to the average American who is the sustainer of the Consumption component of same. Investor concerns about, for instance, the health of the Euro has little- if any- impact upon the average U.S. voter "out there" (the Romney/Ryan Campaign perhaps declaiming that "This Election is about saving the Euro"?-- uh-- I don't think so! [;-)]); at the same time, the stagnation in Investment is mirrored by a seemingly similar stagnation in Consumption as well (itself largely-- well, if something isn't really moving in either direction, we certainly can't really use the term "fueled", can we?-- by the seeming "3 steps forward, 2 steps back" nature of all the economic stats churned out on an almost daily basis in recent months: from Corporate Earnings to Unemployment Rates to New Housing Starts/Home Sales in general to Indexes of Consumer Confidence, etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam ["We're finally pulling out of... oh... wait a minute... never mind!"]).
It feels all too much like being on board a jet airliner waiting to take off from an all-too-busy airport and being told, by the captain speaking over the PA system, "We're now # 2 on the runway... oh, excuse me, we're actually # 5 now... but I can assure you we'll be # 2 as soon as possible!" (except that Politics itself requires an additional "and we wouldn't even have a chance to be # 2 at some point if you hadn't chosen to fly [Whatever] Airways!").
And so I am here left to now "cycle" back to my own second major element within the upcoming Presidential Election campaign: Who is to most Bear the Pain?
In my Commentary of 1 July last, I noted that Repeal (with or without Replacement) of the Affordable Care Act is now not something from which Governor Romney can ever run away from all through the November Election itself and that for better or for worse, as regards his own election prospects, this very gauntlet Romney himself threw down in the immediate wake of the Supreme Court's decision is now his for the keeping.
What sparked this particular observation of mine was Romney's own declamation that "What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day as President of the United States" (that is: Repeal and Replace 'Obamacare'-- here putting aside the fact that, constitutionally speaking, an American President cannot, on his first day in office, so unilaterally 'repeal and replace' what, after all, remains- and here as a direct result of the Supreme Court's decision on the issue- within the Federal Statutes themselves). Romney made this declamation on the steps of the United States Capitol itself on the very day of that Supreme Court decision (though this timing was, in the main, purely coincidental: one strongly suspects that- had the ruling gone the other way- Romney would have had a different "kettle of fish" in Washington to "fry" before the Capitol that day [Thursday 28 June was, rather obviously, chosen as the date for Romney to effectively so launch his General Election campaign mostly because the results of the very last Presidential Primary- that in Utah, on the preceding Tuesday- would have been known by then]). In the same interview which engendered the quote from Newt Gingrich that appears in the first sentence of this piece, the former House Speaker noted that Romney has endorsed the Ryan budget plan, opposed tax increases, and indicated he supports the full repeal of 'Obamacare': that's a pretty activist opening day!
Of course, given the political context of Romney's "opening day" (again, Thursday 28 June), Romney's having supported "the full repeal of 'Obamacare'" was given the most play within the ensuing news cycle... but, in that same 1 July Commentary of my own, I went on to note that further, he [Romney] will also have to live with his own (still to be determined in future) running mate's declamations on the very issue. Now, just about a month and a half later as I type this, Romney's "endorse[ment] of the Ryan budget plan" takes on greater weight than this last (largely because Congressman Ryan himself is now to be on the GOP National Ticket).
Taken together, however, the Repeal/Replace 'Obamacare' and Ryan Budget Plan mantras from the Republican side, when contrasted with the Democrats' post-post-postNewDealism (hence our hearing- from the Dems- about "preserving Medicare [or Social Security] as we know it") make it clear just who- within the Middle Class- each Major Party now thinks will simply have to suffer longer than others as the American Economy continues to try and fight its way out of its present, altogether stagnant circumstances.
Romney/Ryan will almost certainly declare, most emphatically, that "a rising tide raises all boats" (or some similar such nonsense) and that, therefore, they're not really hurting any part of the Middle Class at all with their own policy proposals; Obama/Biden, meanwhile, will simply read all those with too much money ("we'll get back to you with the actual numbers later, by the way") in their wallets and/or bank accounts out of the Middle Class altogether.
What makes this all so easy for each Major Party and their respective National Tickets is the rather nebulous definition of just what might be the Middle Class in America. Assuming (if only tongue-in-cheek, and solely for sake of this particular argument, here) much validity in the 'Occupy' Movement's overly simplistic division of Americans into "the 1 Percent" and "the 99 Percent", fully 99 percent of "the 99 Percent"- or so it now seems- considers themselves Middle Class... it's just that they all also consider roughly half of "the 99 Percent" wrong in just such a self-determination and just who one might think is actually wrong here depends mostly on in just which percentile within "the 99 Percent" one finds one's self (or, at least, thinks one finds one's self)!
Having said all this, however, one thing I wrote back on 1 July has not changed and I reiterate it here:
National elections... are not decided by Party bases: rather, they are decided by the 'Bell Curve' of the American electorate, who are neither ideologically "true believing" conservatives nor liberals and who are not at all strongly tied to the "lines" of either Major Party! [I might here add to my own words of nearly a month and a half ago now that such Party "lines", of course, include each Party's respective definitions of who might be- along with who might not be- entitled to be truly considered Middle Class: REB-A]
This 'Bell Curve' itself is a rather motley mix of Independents, Freethinkers, notorious "ticket splitters" and the like-- it also includes many a registered member of either Major Party... who, nonetheless, ever reserve their right to vote for candidates not of the Party with which they might be registered come a General Election... and their numbers are almost always woefully underestimated.
So, in the end (and once again), it is the Center of the American electorate over which Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan will the more contest this Fall and the truest test as to whether or not a Congressman Ryan admittedly well supported by the Republican Party base- in the end- helps, or hinders, Mitt Romney's chances to occupy the White House will be just how well the Romney/Ryan ticket might succeed (or not) in that very contest. Here we must think, once more, of that which is contained in the quote from Newt Gingrich near the start of this very piece:
You have to think of Romney as having a foot in the Tea Party and a foot in the Establishment: that's right where the Republicans want him.
But is it where Americans as a whole might want him come Tuesday 6 November? Stay tuned!