The Road Ahead
Rolling Stone, October 25, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
The essence of this race is, "Do we have an economy that is building on all
the work we've done over the last four years – an economy where we're
focused on growing a strong, vibrant middle class, where we're focused on
creating a strong manufacturing base here in the United States, where we are
continuing to cut our imports of foreign oil, not only by developing
homegrown oil and gas, but also by making sure that we are developing and
taking leadership in clean energy? Are we going to continue to make
investments in education that ensure that every kid in America has a shot at
success if they're willing to work hard? Are we going to reduce our deficit
in a way that's balanced and allows us to continue to make the investments
that help us to grow?" That's what I'm putting forward.
Romney's putting forward is a return to the very same policies that got us
into this mess in the first place: tax cuts skewed toward the wealthy and
rollbacks of regulations that we fought very hard against lobbyists and
special interests to put in place, to make sure that we don't have
taxpayer-funded bailouts, to make sure that insurance companies aren't
taking advantage of folks who need health care, to make sure that we have a
strong consumer advocate in place to protect people from unscrupulous
So I'm absolutely sure that we've got the better argument.
And Governor Romney understands that. It's the reason why he's trying to fog
up the issues. We won the battle of ideas during the course of the last
year. His argument for a $5 trillion tax cut skewed toward the wealthy is
not a recipe for growth. It won't create jobs, it won't reduce the deficit,
and the American people understand that.
When Romney was the governor
of Massachusetts, his efforts to balance the budget involved raising taxes
and fees on middle-class families and gutting investments in education. As
recently as two weeks ago he said he thought it was fair for someone like
him, who's making $20 million a year, to pay a lower tax rate than a teacher
or bus driver making $50,000 a year. His basic theory is that if folks at
the top are doing well and are unencumbered, that prosperity will rain down
on everybody else, because they'll make better decisions about allocating
I've got a different theory. I believe that when
middle-class families are doing well, then we all do better. Because those
are customers who are buying goods and services, so businesses do better. It
goes back to what Henry Ford understood when he decided to pay higher wages
to his workers. That's how we grew a middle class. Our task over the next
four weeks is just to lay bare just what these economic choices are.
Republicans have been telling themselves for a while that half the country
consider themselves victims and want to be dependent on government.
Obviously, Romney was wrong on the facts, since the overwhelming majority of
that 47 percent are either folks that are working every day and paying all
kinds of taxes but just don't earn enough money to pay income tax; or are
senior citizens who worked all their lives and did everything right so they
could count on some sense of security as they got older; or they are
veterans who have sacrificed for our country, or soldiers who are
sacrificing as we speak on behalf of our country. But that sense that folks
who have contributed to this country but are at the lower ends of the income
scale are somehow looking for government to do something for them, or feel
some sense of entitlement, is just fundamentally wrong. It doesn't jive with
what I see as I travel across the country every day.
Are there people
who, both at the top and the bottom, aren't pulling their weight and are
looking for a special deal? Sure. But as was pointed out when this
controversy erupted, there are a whole bunch of millionaires who aren't
paying any income tax, as well as people at the lower end of the income
spectrum who may be taking advantage of the safety net that we've put in
place. We should hold everybody accountable who's not doing their fair
share. The American people don't like bailouts, they don't like handouts,
but they do understand that we have to have a government that ensures that
if somebody is working hard and carrying out their responsibilities, that
they can succeed and that they can give the prospects of a better life to
their kids and their grandkids.
Governor Romney was willing to
embrace the most extreme positions in the Republican Party: on immigration,
on environmental issues, on women's issues and on the economy. Frankly, I
think that's telling when you start thinking about the presidency. If you
can't say no to certain elements of your party, if you don't have sets of
principles that you're willing to fight for, even if they're not politically
convenient, then you're gonna have a tough time in this office.
was only at a point when the American people soundly rejected those views
that you started seeing him try to fuzz up those positions. But they remain
his positions. He continues to believe, when it comes to immigration, that
the Arizona law is a model for the nation, and that self-deportation is the
answer. When it comes to women's health issues, he continues to believe that
Roe versus Wade should be overturned. He would support a constitutional
amendment overturning a woman's right to choose and would eliminate funding
for Planned Parenthood.
If you talk to women, they will tell you
they're very capable of making their own health care decisions. If you have
a chance to meet these Dream Act kids, then you would reject the idea that
somehow they should be deported to some country where they've never been.
But those are Governor Romney's positions.
Health care is a national
issue of massive importance. It takes up 17 or 18 percent of our entire
economy; it touches on everybody's lives; it is a massive burden on
businesses, on our federal budget and on families. I am very proud of the
steps we've taken already: making sure that insurance companies can't impose
lifetime limits that could leave families high and dry if somebody gets a
severe illness. Parents being able to keep their kids on their own plans
until they're 26 years old. The rebates that are already going out to
customers because we've said to insurance companies that you've got to spend
the dollars you collect in premiums on actually providing care, not just on
overhead and CEO salaries. The $600 a year that seniors are saving on their
prescription drugs. The tax breaks we're providing small businesses in order
to provide health insurance for their families. The cost-control measures
that are trying to develop better ways of providing care. All those things
are already happening.
For the greatest nation on Earth not to make
sure that people aren't going bankrupt when they get sick – that was a blot
on our society. And for us to take this step forward is something that is
really going to make a big difference for millions of families for decades
When you talk about economic fairness, it's not just an
issue of fairness, it's also an issue of growth. Republicans often tries to
frame this as "Obama's a redistributionist, whereas we want to grow the pie
instead of taking from Peter to pay Paul." But look at our history: When
we've been successful, it's because everybody is in on the action. When
prosperity is broad-based, it is stable, it is steady, it is robust.
The people in the auto industry want to work hard, but they want to make
sure that hard work is rewarded. They really take great pride in making
great products, making a great car. That's what you see in Ohio, that's what
you see across the country. People want to work hard, they want to feel like
they're contributing, they want to feel like they're helping to build the
country. All they want is just a chance.
Abraham Lincoln believed in
self-sufficiency and self-reliance. But he also understood that there's some
things we do better together. That we make investments in our infrastructure
and railroads and canals and land-grant colleges and the National Academy of
Sciences, because that provides us all with an opportunity to fulfill our
potential, and we'll all be better off as a consequence. He also had a sense
of empathy, a sense of the intrinsic worth of every individual, which led
him to his opposition to slavery. That view of life has made America great
and allowed us to stitch together a sense of national identity.
going to have a full agenda in the second four years. The single biggest
thing that I would like to see is changing incentives on Wall Street and how
people get compensated. That ultimately requires not just congressional
legislation but a change in corporate governance. You still have a situation
where people making bets can get a huge upside, and their downsides are
limited. So it tilts the whole system in favor of very risky behavior. But
that's not something that can entirely be legislated That's something that
also has to involve shareholders and boards of directors being better
stewards of their institutions.
Bill Clinton has a lot of credibility
with the public when it comes to how the economy works. Because the last
time we had healthy, broad-based growth was when he was president. I came in
just as we were sliding. Because of the actions we took, we averted a Great
Depression, but we also muddied up the political narrative, because it
allowed somebody like Romney to somehow blame my policies for the mess that
the previous administration created. Bill Clinton can point that out in ways
that are really helpful and really powerful.
AR This is a good case, well argued.