If a Republican were president, there would be millions of properly coiffed middle-class Democrats and independents at those Occupy Wall Street marches, and no questions asked as to what they really want. With 25 million Americans unable to find full-time work, 50 million whose homeownership dream has turned into the nightmare of foreclosure, and an all-time high of 46.2 million — including 22 percent of our children — living in poverty, the call to throw the bums out would be compelling.
But the protest signs in a nation headed by a Republican, though surely gussied up a bit with ad-agency savvy, would be the same as they are now: Stop catering to the top 1 percent who get ever wealthier, and focus on helping the 99 percent who are hurting. To accomplish that, we need a moratorium on bank-ordered evictions, along with a government-funded program to aid the underemployed that is as robust as the trillions spent to save the Wall Street swindlers who caused all of this trouble.
Instead, we're left with a Democratic president who sooths our rage with promises of decent-paying jobs that in actuality are being vigorously exported from our shores by the president's top corporate backers. That absurdity was marked by Barack Obama's choice of Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric — a company that has shifted to foreign countries two-thirds of its workforce and 82 percent of its profits — to head the president's job creation council.
Obama has failed not because he is a progressive in the mold of Franklin Delano Roosevelt but because he is not. He has blindly followed the lead of George W. Bush in bankrupting the nation by throwing money at Wall Street while continuing to fund wildly expensive and unneeded wars.
Meanwhile, the Republicans divert public attention from their culpability in destroying a sound federal financial regulatory system and gifting Wall Street crooks with a platinum get-out-of-jail-free card. To listen to the GOP presidential candidates, the banking meltdown was caused by everyone except the bankers.
The next time you meet up with Republican apologists, ask them if they ever heard of Phil Gramm, whose name is on the legislation that offered a blanket exemption from government regulation for the bank-concocted “securitization” of home mortgages into the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that are at the heart of the world's economic crisis. And if you meet ex-Sen. Gramm himself, ask him if he still thinks we are “a nation of whiners” for thinking there is a crisis, as he asserted when he was heading the John McCain presidential campaign.
OK, it would be worse if McCain had won and Gramm were his Treasury secretary instead of being a super-compensated exec of the Swiss-based bank UBS, which American taxpayers bailed out. And, yes, the fact that Gramm is a supporter of his former student Rick Perry for the GOP presidential nomination is a reminder of just how dangerous the Republican alternatives are. But there is also some value in the clarity afforded by having visible villains occupying the White House.
Let me confess that I gagged on those words as soon as they were written. Clarity is not power, and the prospect of a Republican presidential victory by, say, Mitt Romney is just too unnerving. Romney's economic program is Orwellian in form and substance: The candidate has asserted that our economy is in trouble because “President Obama has vastly expanded the regulatory reach of government.” Hogwash. It is because he hasn't.
Romney's proposed foreign policy is even more irresponsibly wrong. He has revived the neoconservatives' discredited Pax Americana rhetoric, which got us into the Iraq War and returned military spending to highs reached during the Cold War. Romney laid out his obsession with U.S. military dominance in a South Carolina speech last week; he said he would increase the size of the military by 100,000 members. He later thundered to cadets at The Citadel: “This century must be an American century. America leads the free world, and the free world leads the entire world. God did not create this country to be a nation of followers.”
Leaving aside assertions regarding God's intentions, it is unnerving that the much-discredited platform of the Project for a New American Century, which helped bankrupt this country, will once again become U.S. policy if the Republicans gain control of the White House.
No doubt many reasonable Americans will view Obama as the lesser evil come election time, and for some, that will prove compelling. But I take the dreary choices to be one akin to a form of slow torture. Better to support the Occupy Wall Street protests as an inspiring alternative.