It's the Economy -- Got It
By Ruth Flower on 01/25/2012 @ 11:59 AM
The President's State of the Union speech last night focused on getting the economy back on track. That's good. That's where most of us live. We know that nothing in our future is secure if we don't have jobs, homes, education for our children, and an ability to adapt to changing demands. We want solutions.
The President offered a number of fairly specific steps forward -- most of them more "supply side" than I would have expected -- but they might work. His attention to small businesses that create jobs here, and recommendations to end the incentives for multinational corporations to export jobs overseas were positive. Small business owners we've talked to, however, have emphasized that a high percentage of them are in service industries that serve local customers. If they don't have customers, all the tax breaks in the world can't help them to hire more people. So we need to be sure more people have jobs and incomes. Small businesses need more customers.
Supporting a move toward manufacturing to encourage renewable energy development would create some of those jobs and help to support the "demand side" of the equation that small businesses (and others) need. But it takes a while to get a new industry ramped up. What happens in the meantime? I missed hearing a commitment to those still struggling with the financial tsunami that washed over this country (and the world) over the past few years...those who still can't find jobs... those who haven't yet completed the skills training and education that the president rightly promoted. Those who were already poor before the recession. I didn't hear a commitment to unemployment insurance and to basic income assistance for those on the edge and those who are below our country's official definitions of poverty. One in five children in poverty -- in this country. Can we live with that?
As heartened as I was by some of the themes, I found myself just shaking my head at the perceived need for a presidential candidate -- even a sitting president -- to deliver a "tough" face to the rest of the world. In his summation, he returned to the idea that America is strong because our military is strong. What about our people? Our innovation? Our curiosity about the world? Our democracy? Our desire for solutions?
We have become too dependent on the military -- not on our troops, but on our military technology and industry -- to explain who we are as a people. But that's not where we live. The American people do not want war, but the president all but threatened war in his comments about Iran. A peaceful resolution is still possible, he said. But what we invest in, as a nation, is preparation for war.
I think of the Cherokee legend of an elder speaking of two wolves that battle for his spirit. One embodies the values he holds dear -- peace, generosity, protection of the earth, and so on. The other embodies whatever it is that he considers the opposite of his values. A child asks, "Which one wins the battle, grandfather?" And the grandfather replies, "The one I feed." In this country, we do not feed our capacity for peaceful resolution of conflicts in the world. We do not put our dollars, our creativity, our innovation, our commitment to this task. Instead, we support a huge weapons industry, coming up with ever more complicated technologies to strengthen our ability to attack. For now, that is the wolf who wins.
We will hear more details in coming days about the president's proposals for the military budget and for the rest of the budget. Although Congress adopted a bi-partisan deal last August to address the federal debt and to bring down spending in all sectors of the budget, we are hearing that the president's proposal for the military budget will break that deal, proposing less than half the spending reductions mandated by the "debt deal." He speaks of an agreement that he and Pentagon arrived at last summer, before the debt deal, and his intention to go forward with that agreement. My mind escaped for a moment to picture of a president saying "I came to an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Housing that we would not cut as much from them as the "debt deal" demands, because right now, the programs they offer are critical to the future of this country." But no president in my lifetime has ever said that. Only the Pentagon budget is allowed to break the deal, even though there are plenty of places in the Pentagon to find the savings that need to be realized each year over the next decade.
Most of America understands that the Pentagon has had a free ride for quite some time, and that fat contracts and lost money account for quite a bit of the savings that must be realized now. FCNL will be helping to give voice and background facts to enable all of us to speak from where we live about rational spending reductions and rational investments -- about which wolf we feed.