Saturday, February 28, 2009

You Say You Want a Revolution?

“It ain't that big. The whole United States ain't that big. It ain't that big. It ain't big enough. There ain't room enough for you an' me, for your kind an' my kind, for rich and poor together all in one country, for thieves and honest men. For hunger and fat.”
– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.

When Barack Obama was elected president last November, he stated, “Change is coming.” Change, as many of us know, is an ambiguous term and can be interpreted countless different ways, kinda like the term “hope.” To many Americans who voted for Obama, change simply meant “not Bush.” If there is anyone out there who actually thinks few voters cast their ballot based on this rather baseless reasoning, I have a new flavor of ice cream to sell you – “dairy delusional”. In 2004, the activist group “Vote for Change” assaulted people throughout Minneapolis with the pitch “Do you want to help get George Bush out of the White House?” Although young, earnest and well-intentioned, I tended to question the volunteers depth of knowledge considering they could state little regarding the candidate they supported at the time (John Kerry) and relied on voter dissatisfaction on the current administration to achieve their goal. Fast-forward to 2008, the average citizen is disgusted with the economy, Bush cronyism and the concept of politics as usual in Washington. The media covered the election like a bizzaro reality show starring a charming, eloquent 47-year-old senator named Barack Obama. Obama was able to successfully use television and the internet to combine the concepts of “change”, “hope” and “not Bush” en route to a definitive victory. However, for the millions of Americans who voted for the “not Bush”, many of whom voted with their almost-empty pocketbooks, the change coming from the new administration is far different from the vagueness left up to their imaginations months earlier.

When President Obama unveiled his housing rescue program last week, many Americans were dismayed at the apparent concept of rewarding people who bit off more than they could financially chew. Although Obama stated his program would not help laid off yuppies stay in their McMansions, press secretary Robert Gibbs confessed the program will more than likely aid some undeserving homeowners. In what is probably President Obama’s first major policy flop, the concept of American taxpayers subsidizing their foolish neighbors in addition to paying for arrogant, money-hoarding banks and clueless auto companies is too much to fathom after giving the new president a basic pass on his stimulus package. Time for another lesson from the wonderful world of Adam Koeppe Simple Math. First, the cost of living is much more expensive in Florida, New York and California than the rest of the country. A $500,000 home in Florida could equate to a $150,000 property in Minnesota, Wisconsin or many other parts of the country. Secondly, Florida and California are two of the states hit hardest by the mortgage meltdown, so there’s a lot of rich or wanna be rich people with their hands out. Third, proportionally, it will be much more expensive to help out the well-dressed beautiful people than the majority of the country. In other words, for every one home that is bailed out in Florida or California, the government could help almost five in other states. Five to one, one to five. Are we going to get out of this mess alive?

I have nothing against palm tree huggers; I just want them to understand the rest of the country would like them to live within their means. If you can afford to live it up in Miami or Los Angeles, great. Party on. Say hi to Jeremy Piven for me. If you can’t afford your rock and roll lifestyle, load up your car and move into Jed Clampett’s old digs in hillbilly land. President Obama has indicated our decades long belief in a culture of entitlement is ending. Using this philosophy could place the new President at odds with many of the same people who voted for him. My trusted sources have informed me that Fox News, Matt Drudge and every conservative talk radio host across the country will expose each and every undeserving home owner who is bailed out and will shove it in Obama’s face alongside pictures of said mansions and their swimming pools day after day until the public is in compete disgust of those who think they are entitled to a certain standard of living, even though they do not deserve it. Octomom: THIS IS YOU.

As President Obama pushes for billions of dollars to fund long-needed health care reform, he will continually remind us it is our duty as citizens to care for our own and that no family should lose everything they own because of out of control health care costs. I could not agree more. If I didn’t have insurance, my last visit to the doctor’s office would have been $118, and that was with no tests, x-rays or other stuff. That was just to walk in the door. Americans are bombarded with heath-care horror stories from both sides, but the majority agrees the costs are out of control and the insurance industry is a joke. However, this legislation will have a negative impact on the stock market, as pretty much everything Obama has done so far has distressed the not so mighty minds of Wall Street. There are many companies dependant on the health insurance industry to function and as that dependence is eroded, so will investor confidence in said companies. I know many businesses that provide heath insurance for enticement to work for their company in a sweatshop-like atmosphere just so their family can afford doctor and dentist visits. Similar to the General Motors, these companies will be forced to alter their business model to accommodate workers who will no longer need to labor under adverse conditions to afford heath care. There are tens of thousands of companies like this and they will make their feelings heard through a stagnant stock market.

Many Americans are concerned over the fate of Wall Street and their incredibly shrinking portfolios. As much as the declining market is a result of Obama’s policies, it also reflects a complete lack of confidence in big business and the individuals who speculate on their future. The public is given a new charlatan on a weekly basis; a person who has swindled people from their earnings so they can live like kings. The latest dirtbag in a thousand-dollar suit, R. Allen Stanford, actually liked to be called “Sir”, a title used in his official biography on Stanford is accused of a nine billon dollar Ponzi scheme, which is still dwarfed by Bernie Madoff’s fifty billion dollar fraud. President Obama has not called out these individuals by name, only stating that these are actions of a few and not indicative of investors and bankers in general. The President may be correct in this generalization, but the anger surrounding these individuals continues to mount. The FBI and SEC are facing massive pressure to root out these bad guys, a process which began at the tail end of the Bush presidency. As more Stanfords are added to the list of real-life J.R. Ewings, citizens will become far less likely to invest their savings in a stock market they no longer trust.

In order for the free market to function properly, there has to be an implicit assurance of trust and honesty. This trust has been decimated by the behavior of banks, the auto industry and greedy slimeballs in general. Like any relationship, once trust is violated, it is very difficult to earn back. Many people just choose to cut their losses and move on. This means less investing of income by Americans, providing they have any income left to invest. Retrospectively, it was not really feasible for the stock market to double its value in ten years, nor should it be a complete surprise that it returns to levels predating the spike. Frank Rich pointed out the increase in bank craziness runs parallel to the departure of the last Wall Street executives who were affected by the Great Depression. After they retired, Gordon Gekko was free to swindle, lie and buy as he pleased, as long as he had a nice compensation package waiting for him after he ran his company into the ground. The guaranteed contracts of high-ranking executives have become a burden on investors. The more there are, the less likely more capital will be put into the system. If the general public no longer trusts business to take care or itself, it’s hard to invest in their future. To his credit, Barack Obama has not used his bully pulpit to incite further anger towards these institutions. Maybe he realizes Americans are ticked off enough. In his speech Tuesday night, he stated he “gets it.” If this is indeed so, we are in for a rude awakening surrounding our culture of “gimme gimme gimme.”

Our country elected a man who does not support the game as it has been played for the last few decades. He is moving the chess board in a permanent sort of way. The opposition to his policies has few leaders and no one that can match the oratorical abilities of Barack Obama. When he takes his show on the road, as he did to promote support for the stimulus, our president has no peer. The Republican Party is in sad disarray, suffering from the fallout of Bush cronyism and videotaped handshakes with the ex-president used in campaigns of years past. They have little, if any knowledge of internet communications, an allegation made by Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan, in a relavatory piece posted on The Daily Beast. President Obama will use this advantage, along with his super-speaking power, for the foreseeable future. This may not be the change the “not-Bushes” voted for or wanted, but it is the change that has arrived, for better or worse. Our world is shifting, true believers, but it is still up to us if we choose to believe in ourselves and not politicians, pundits and posers.

Meanwhile, conservatives are huddled together enmasse at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), trying to redefine themselves as constitutionalists, fiscally responsible and generally “not Bush.” Even the esteemed, portly, pompous Rush Limbaugh stated the road ahead for the Republican Party will be tough. “Not Bush” won, not only destroying the Karl Rove ideal of a permanent Republican majority, but making it a concept as laughable as Al Gore inventing the internet. Republicans had little to fear if Hillary Clinton would have been elected, as was widely presumed a year ago. She plays the game traditionally and would have enacted business as usual in centrist Democratic policymaking. However, Clinton did not win the nomination and Barack Obama won the presidency. He has such a head start on fundraising, monetarily and technologically, Republicans do not only resemble a tortoise, they resemble a tortoise with its head three feet up its backside. Until they realize they have to move beyond lobbying their message to radio and broadcast T.V., they risk further marginalizing themselves while President Obama has his way with his party majorities in congress, which if I may remind some forgetful readers, exist because the Republican Party marched lock and step with George…who? As I watch the CPAC convention, no-one seems to know this guy. George…Foreman? Jetson? Phyllis George? Ask anyone at CPAC, the last Republican president was Reagan, not “whatsisname.”

As the CPAC crew does the time warp, the rest of the country is left with the fallout of electing a man who wants to change the economic landscape dramatically. If “not Bush” is what many voters wanted, they have received it to the 10th power. If the political landscape shifts toward an era of big government and helping the infinitely stupid, the incompetence of the administration of George W. Bush played just as large a part in its ascendance as the speaking abilities of a first-term U.S. Senator. Many of us do not like some (if any) proposals in Barack Obama’s agenda, but he is in charge for the next few years and won by a decisive majority. We’re going to have to live with his decisions and hope for the best, as we did when some other guy babbled about imaginary WMD’s. President Obama has political capital and he is going to use it. His promise of change is here, but it may not be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for some of us. Nobody said change was going to be easy or even slightly bumpy. Fasten your seatbelts, kiddos. We’re in for a completely off-road experience.

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