Friday, July 13, 2012

Ordinary Average Guys

You can't conduct a small-group discussion with ordinary Americans today without coming back shaken. They are in trouble, and they know they are in trouble. They are holding on or slipping, dealing with unemployment in the family, the overhang of debt and loss of any cushion in life. New jobs pay decidedly less and what their health insurance policies cover is a joke. People are scared about the rising cost of college education. Many of the retired are now looking for part-time work. With salaries virtually frozen and prices rising, a trip to the grocery store produces near-desperation.

So began a piece that graced the opinion pages of today’s WSJ.

I don’t know what the exact definition of an “ordinary American” is, but I would tend to consider myself and my friends, coworkers, neighbors, and other acquaintances to broadly fit that description. And while I know people who have lost jobs during the recession and people who are worried about their health insurance (although I think that’s more about what might coming with Obamacare) and how they’re going to be able to afford to send their kids to college, I don’t recognize the same level of fear and desperation (at the grocery store) among ordinary Americans that the authors of this piece apparently do.

Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, we‘d all like to see it improve. Yes, there are economic stresses and strains that we have to deal with which creates a certain amount of anxiety. But again, I don’t see it any of this at the same level as is described in this piece. Perhaps I’m living in a elitist bubble whose existence I don’t recognize (quick ask me what the price of a gallon of milk is). Are my daily experiences really that far removed from other “ordinary Americans”?

By the way in case you’re curious, this piece was not penned by a couple of conservatives trying to exaggerate how bad things are or “talk down the economy” in order to hurt President Obama’s reelection prospects. The authors are James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, a couple of blasts from the past of the good old days of the Clinton Administration. So unless they are part of some deeper conspiracy (Hillary in 2016?), their aim is not to attack the President and his policies in order to damage him in November.

In fact, their proposed solution to cure the economic woes of “ordinary Americans” is to double down on President Obama’s efforts to stimulate the economy. They call for more government spending (“well in excess of the 2009 Recovery Act contemplated”) and higher taxes on “top earners, senior corporate executives and companies that outsource jobs.” Don’t worry about what the exact definitions of each of those tax targets will be. I’m sure in the minds of Carville and Greenberg that will be “fair.”

So is that really what “ordinary Americans” want? I guess we’ll find out in November.