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Davis, California

Friday, September 17, 2021

Column: Show me the policy

With the economy still struggling to get on its feet and a tepid recovery, the battlefield is set, and the most effective policy arguments will revolve around job creation and economic growth, right? As James Carville famously posted on the wall of President Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Voters always vote from their checkbook — some more literally than others — right? With unemployment stubbornly sitting above 8 percent nationally and Gross Domestic Product growth less than 2 percent, the presidency seems ripe for the picking by anyone with a plausible recovery policy.

Where then, is that grand policy debate? Where are the competing policy proposals from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — the Keynesians versus the laissez faire soldiers? Who’s telling it to us straight — that the reality is, cutting government spending will physically remove GDP and slow the economy? — and may lead to recession. Who is arguing that we all must be prepared for inevitable and necessary sacrifice — to bite the bullet and cut the debt for future generations?

Instead the candidates spend the most time chalking up out-of-context slogans (see “you didn’t build that,” “corporations are people”) to create imaginary positions for imaginary candidates to run against.

Romney is quick to point to Obama’s 2008 campaign, claiming it was built on cheap words and empty rhetoric, yet invents false policies and ideologies (see SOCIALISM) from three words Obama uttered in reference to the “roads and bridges” that businesses rely on to run. From this statement, they created the entire Republican National Convention theme, “We built it,” and spent the entire convention talking about their commitment to creating jobs as if simply by saying it enough times, they could cut unemployment in half.

Obama spends a good portion of his campaigning reminding people that Romney enjoys tax advantages that allow him to pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us and that in his tenure at Bain Capital, he fired a lot of people and ended up with huge profits from failing businesses. While that might not excite you to vote for him — it doesn’t provide any insight to what he would do with the presidency (a public, NOT private, institution) or what Obama can do to continue to improve the economy.

Show me the policy.

Is it wrong to expect presidential candidates — to whom we are expected to give our time, money and the keys to the White House — to sit down and spend time making policy before they campaign? Goals and objectives are fantastic but in the absence of mechanisms by which to accomplish them — they are purely fantastical (see Newt Gingrich’s promises for $2.50/gallon gas and a permanent colony on the moon). Rhetoric provides energy, vision and an idea of what our country should look like, but the presidency is not a ceremonial position (see the Queen of England) — it is the inventor-in-chief.

You may not always have a friendly Congress but you damn well better jam enough policy proposals down their throats until they listen and cough up a signable bill. Call me a “policy wonk” but I want your blueprint for the country before we give you the office — I’m not going to vote based on your bumper sticker or your expensive negative campaign ads.

The campaign website shouldn’t be full of cheap talk but filled with bold, detailed policy proposals so the American people can see all your cards laid out on the table and get the debate they deserve.

Campaigns should educate — not mislead, misrepresent or distract.

Want an educated populace?

Educate them.

Formulate real policy and let the voters decide with all of the facts, not only rhetoric. We shouldn’t have to translate the “visions” and campaign ads into what you would do with the highest office in the country for you. We shouldn’t have to wait and hear what you’re going to do until after we cast our vote.

It’s your job to scare the living daylight out of us with the hard truths and inspire us about the future. But if you’re not going to tell us how you’re going to fix it — I think you’re misunderstanding the job you’re applying for.

If you have anything more to offer than cheap talk, email KEVIN PELSTRING at kpelstring@ucdavis.edu.

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