FCNews Volume 27/Number 12, October 22/29, 2012
The presidential debates are over, and by the time you read this there will be about a week until the elections, maybe less. It couldn’t come soon enough. The commercials are getting old, and the dual attacks are not good for anyone. I’m also concerned when one candidate centers his campaign on what can only be viewed as class warfare. That is divisive to a country that must stand united. I’m not endorsing one candidate over another here; I’m just saying we should not divide the country when we should stand undivided when we face multiple threats from across the globe.
I’ve had many hours on airplanes over the last month to corral my thoughts about the election and how each candidate might shape the country over the next four years and beyond. I think about jobs, healthcare, tax implications, national security, Supreme Court nominees, social issues and so on. I’m no different than every other American.
I’ve particularly been thinking about jobs. How can’t you? We are constantly reminded of the high unemployment numbers, which some say would be even higher if they took into account all the people who stopped looking for work.
I wonder how we create jobs when every time I call my bank, the person on the other end of the phone is sitting at a call center halfway across the world. I wonder how we create jobs when I go to my local CVS and all but one of the cashiers have been replaced with self- checkout kiosks. I wonder how we create jobs when I remember how management guru Tom Peters framed the factory of the future: “It will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching anything.”
I also wonder if at times we have stomped on the work ethic that has been the foundation on which America was founded by creating a disincentive to work. Case in point: The president of a major carpet mill recently told me he wanted to rehire some employees who were laid off about a year ago. He was told by more than one that they would take a pass for now but would get back to him when their unemployment ran out.
I’ve also been asking myself how this election will be viewed many years from now in the history books. Obviously, it depends on who wins.
If President Obama is defeated, the comparison will be with Jimmy Carter: A one-term president who was rejected after pursuing big government programs amid high energy prices and attacks on America in the Middle East. (In all fairness to Carter, he began the defense buildup that Ronald Reagan accelerated. Carter also supported airline deregulation, which made air travel widely accessible, as well as rail and trucking deregulation, which squeezed billions from the cost of goods and services. He also signed a tax bill cutting capital gains rates and establishing 401(k) deferred- tax retirement accounts.)
A Romney victory would look like a refutation of historians’ view of the New Deal—the idea that Democratic presidents increase the size and scope of government, voters ratify that and Republican successors leave it alone till the next Democrat gets in.
So what if Obama wins? He could be only the second president in American history who won a second term by a smaller popular vote percentage and electoral vote margin than four years before. The other was Woodrow Wilson in 1916.
In his first term, Wilson passed a new antitrust act, created the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve, lowered trade barriers and imposed an income tax on high earners.
But his second term was not as popular. In April 1917, he went before Congress and got approval for a declaration of war against Germany. A military draft was instituted, a law passed criminalizing anti-war protests, the railroads were nationalized, and the top income tax rate was raised to 77%. His idealistic postwar plans led revolutionaries to set off bombs on Wall Street and outside the attorney general’s house. His party lost the 1920 election by a 60% to 34% margin.
Should President Obama be re-elected, voters must hope a second term will be less like the second Wilson term and more like some more recent second-term presidents. He will write his own legacy.