This time around is not about growing the economy but making it work for working people.
Some pundits don’t understand why Bernie Sanders is having such success. One of the qualities I most admire in Bernie is his ability to talk about the exact issues everyone is thinking about.
ill Clinton was able to snatch the presidency from George Bush Senior in 1992 by repeating over and over a slogan created by James Carville – “It’s the economy stupid”. It implied that Bush senior seriously mishandled the economy. This was easy because most people have a mistaken perception that the president can quickly change the economy. This idea is false but a popular political plot, cheap ammo and a easy sell to ignorant voters. The idea is misleading and often obscures the real important issues threatening the public today – the damage deregulation and free market fundamentalism have inflicted on the lives of Americans, not just lower wages but the transformation of life into a commodity.
The economy is doing just fine. Millions of jobs have been created. The unemployment rate has fallen to below six percent. Annual U.S. deficits are falling. People are getting up and going to work, they put in a hard day’s work and are collectively generating enormous wealth. Americans work hard, are efficient, are innovative, and are a powerful work force. However this new economic growth has not translated into wage growth or even life satisfaction. Americans work longer hours but make less money. Salaries are stagnant, job satisfaction is dropping – Many Feel the American Dream Is Out of Reach, Poll Shows
So does it means the economy doesn’t matter? Of course we could always grow a little more but when only 1% benefit from what the 99% produces, the word “growth” or even “economy” becomes irrelevant. Americans know something is wrong. We certainly don’t need to increase our working hours or raise the retirement age from 68 to 70 to balance the budget like Republican candidate Jeb Bush proposed earlier in his campaign.
Even though Americans don’t understand the fine tuning of how our economy is being manipulated, they know that the Fed and Congress give free range to Wall Street bankers. Americans have a gut feeling that something is seriously wrong and they have been taken for a ride. Americans also know that there is a serious risk in continuing on the same trajectory. Americans might be ignorant but they are not stupid.
Political pundits from the left and right are puzzled as to why presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is getting so much attention. The fact that they apparently don’t understand is even more disturbing. This only shows how people in powerful positions are out of touch with the reality of most Americans. This only increases irritation in the eyes of the public. While the house is burning, Republicans continue to parade their never ending morality issues and religious rhetoric while morally bankrupt. Democrats continue to chant “It’s the economy stupid,” in hopes it will work out like it did for Clinton back in 1992. Bernie’s approach is people-centered.
Mr Sanders doesn’t talk about the economy as if he possess a magic formula. Bernie’s message is clear because he speaks directly to each individual in a simple and transparent way that can reach everyone. Bernie is not focusing on alienating other candidates. This in turn shows his motives are not to become a president for himself but to serve voters. He encourages dialogue with Republicans. His track record is clean and history shows a man who dedicated his whole life to the issues he is talking about.
The reason Bernie’s campaign is on fire has a lot to do with what he is saying and not how he is saying it. While other candidates focus on embellishing their speech with vague content, Bernie say it plain and simple but the content is rich with meaning. The public is excited because they see themselves represented in his ideas, they feel involved and able to participate. The level of excitement also shows how long Americans have been waiting for someone like Sanders when there is so much at stake. Bernie is addressing the economy but he is addressing people first. He, like most Americans, sees how life has deteriorated and is offering real strategies. This could never be done as a ploy or campaign strategy. People know the difference.
Bernie is hot not because he is a populist but because he talks to Americans about their dissatisfaction on a personal level which has little to do with the economy. It has to do with how we see ourselves, how we relate to each other, and what we have become as a people.
Since the mid 1970s we have progressively changed the way we live, promoting a new economic paradigm. Starting with Ronald Reagan, but refined in subsequent governments, both Republicans and Democrats have touted free market ideology and the deregulation of every state and federal intervention took place. Everyone drunk Ronald Reagan’s kook-aid. The focus became the economy in numbers. If Wall Street was doing well, then everyone was doing well. This is obviously not true since we have seen the largest transfer of wealth to the top 1% followed by wage drop for the middle class. If large banks failed, people had to bail them out using taxpayers money. But perhaps the most pernicious and noxious effect was how this new economy transformed people into commodities.
The emphasis on profits is so absurd that the economy is no longer serving people, but people are being served to the economy in exchange for profits. If prisons are filled with more people but generate jobs it’s OK. People are no longer real patients but health consumers. So it’s OK to give tons of sugar to our kids because if they become diabetics there is a ton of money to be made with treatments. And that is our new definition of success. Students are education consumers, never mind if these expensive degrees don’t correspond to jobs. We have lost our humanity to a system that is only geared to produce profits to a few in detriment of all the rest. Americans are pitted against each other competing to have a place in the sun – people try to emulate the rich but never have an opportunity to play the game.
Americans might not know how they arrived in such an awful place because the changes were incremental but they understand their lives need to change. They want to be able to live in a world where there is more cooperation and less competition, they want to work for a company that sees them as partners and participants and not just profit makers for someone who doesn’t represent them or their community.
Perhaps when our economy is not serving us, it is time to talk about something else. Perhaps what is good for the economy might not be good for us after all. It’s time to find a way to put people before profits. Perhaps then we will all profit. Maybe this is why people feel so excited about Bernie Sanders. Maybe.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore