Thursday, September 6, 2012

186. Let's not repeat years 2000-2008

Sometimes I wish we could experience parallel universes. For tough decisions, it would be insightful and interesting to witness the consequences of each possibility as they are played out in front of us. One of the unsettling and intricate parts of our lives is never knowing what "could have happened."

We have all probably done this from time to time. We wonder what if I would have done things differently--would I have gone to a different college, for example. Would I have met different people, leading to a different career, a different job, maybe even a different spouse and family?

A simple example in sports is the decision by a manager to give a player "a day off." One could easily wonder, what would have happened if he or she would have played? Would it have affected the outcome of the game, would the player have had the best game of his or her career--or the worst game, or maybe suffered a career ending injury. We just never know.

In analyzing the performance of President Obama and his quest for reelection, I find myself asking similar questions. Thus, if we could go back to 2008 and change the way everything happened--I wonder how things would have turned out. What if we had elected John McCain, or if Hillary Clinton would have won the Democratic primary? Moving forward, what about the decisions President Obama made--the stimulus package, passing healthcare reform and the bailouts? How has that affected where we are today?

To be fair, and I know Republicans are tired of hearing this, by 2009 the economy had been completely obliterated. We were losing more than 600,000 jobs per month, the auto industry and financial industry had failed, the housing market collapsed, manufacturing was in dire straits, and we were running up an incredible national debt with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Personal finances were equally devastated-in addition to job losses, people found themselves with credit card and student loan debt they could not repay, upside down on their houses (which until then had been for many their only real form of savings), and they could not afford healthcare, or worse they had accumulated a significant amount of healthcare debt. Many had no choice but to choose bankruptcy.

We were, in the opinion of many, on the brink of financial collapse and potentially another major depression.

President Obama and Congress enacted a number of financial programs in an attempt to improve the economy. While the economy is ridiculously complex and there is only so much any one entity can do, programs such as the stimulus package, Obama care and downsizing government were embraced and ratified.

While no one can suggest that the economy is not better than it was four years ago, many feel that it has not improved quickly enough-particularly in consideration of President Obama's election. (Of course, for many, no matter what the president did, it would not be enough). Unemployment, though it has leveled off, is still too high, the housing market is only recovering slowly as the inventory of foreclosed houses dries up, and we still maintain considerable national debt. Interestingly, despite the effort to limit the influence of corporations and initiating financial reform, Wall Street and the stock markets are doing just fine.

What we do not have are parallel universes to judge the president's performance in comparison to what John McCain would have done, or even Hillary Clinton. Things might be much better, worse--or, about the same. Maybe President Obama saved the country from a devastating depression; maybe he missed an economic opportunity to improve the country. Nor do we have a crystal ball to see what will happen over the next four years if President Obama is reelected, or if Mitt Romney wins the election.

And this is a big decision; we must decide who we want to lead the next four years. It is not a referendum on President Obama; we cannot simply elect the "other guy" simply because we are not completely satisfied where the economy is today. We have to choose the candidate who we believe will make things better over the next four years. And of course, we must also consider the social values of both candidates-we do not live in silos.

We know where we are going with President Obama, and I expect that if reelected the economy will continue to improve--maybe even significantly as many are waiting on the election to move forward. Romney is an uncertainty. His policies are similar to those of the Bush era--most notably continued tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation. More concerning, he seems to lack social values and his opinion on major issues changes as necessary. Unprincipled people cause me anxiety because they often end up being subservient to the influence of others-such as the interest of major corporations, Wall Street and the wealthy.

Regardless of how anyone decides, I hope that it is an informed decision. We cannot forget to ask which candidate and which party represents our financial and social interest. I hope people do not vote "anyone but Obama," without considering just who that anyone really is. We do not live in parallel universes, we do not get a "do over." And we definitely do not want to do 2000 to 2008 over again.

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