To the candidates: Lead - or follow and get out of the race

Updated

Ted Rall
by Ted Rall
COMMENTARY

The Democratic ticket for president holds jut a narrow lead over the Romney-Ryan Republican ticket. What’s going wrong for the Democrats? Mainly, it’s the economy. It sucks. Still. Democrats say the president inherited the meltdown from Bush. But Americans blame Obama.

“The nation’s painfully slow pace of growth is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and some economists and political allies say the cautious response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake,” reports The New York Times. Obama’s big screw-up: “He tried to finesse the cleanup of the housing crash, rejecting unpopular proposals for a broad bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program—and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest.”

Recovery? What recovery?

The depressed housing market, coupled with the reduced purchasing power of tens of millions of Americans who saw their homes’ value fall to below that of their mortgages, as well as the millions who lost their homes to eviction and/or foreclosure, makes recovery unlikely to impossible for the foreseeable future.

Many people, including yours truly, warned that the millions of Americans who were evicted under foreclosure, many of them illegally, were more “too big to fail” than Citigroup. So where was our leadership?

 

Some, like former Congressman Jim Marshall of Georgia voted for TARP, but urged the Obama administration to condition the bailout on forcing the banks to refinance mortgages and write down principal to reflect the new reality of lower housing prices. “There was another way to deal with this, and that is what I supported: forcing the banks to deal with this. It would have been better for the economy and lots of different neighborhoods and people owning houses in those neighborhoods,” Marshall said.

Voters aren’t mad at Obama for not being clairvoyant. They’re pissed off because he ignored people who were smart and prescient in favor of those who were clueless and self-interested, like Tim Geithner, U.S. Sec. of the Treasury. He may be about to pay a price for that terrible decision.

Tens of millions of Americans already have.

In order to be a good leader, Disraeli said, “I must follow the people.” Americans haven’t seen much real leadership on the federal level since Reagan. Where there’s been progress, such as on gay rights, the president only stepped forward after public opinion had shifted enough to make it safe.

The craving for leadership is evident in the polls. Though personally popular and enjoying the advantages of incumbency, President Obama is running neck and neck against Mitt Romney, who has trouble connecting with, and is seen as out of touch by, ordinary voters.

It’s too late to stop the 2008-to-2012 economic meltdown. But it’s still possible for Obama (or, theoretically, Romney) to get ahead of the economy—permanent unemployment benefits, anybody?—and other pressing issues.

Americans want leaders who point the way forward, to anticipate monsters we can’t yet imagine. For example, the looming pension crisis. In 10 to 15 years, Generation X will hit traditional retirement age. How will they eat? Close to none have traditional defined-benefit pension plans. Gen Xers, who earn far less than the Baby Boomers at the same age, have been shunted into 401(k)s, which turned out to be a total ripoff: the average rate of return between 1999 and 2010 was 0.3%.

“[Gen Xers] have no savings, and what they had was devastated by two market crashes,” said Andrew Eschtruth of the Center for Retirement Research. “They never got off the ground.”

The Gen X retirement crisis represents roughly 50 million people waiting for a savior—and 50 million potential votes.

So Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney: Don’t just read the polls. Show that you care about and have a credible plan to confront the problems of the future. If you do that—and we’re not holding our breaths—we’ll pay attention to you.

Ted Rall is a columnist, cartoonist, author and independent war journalist. He is the winner of numerous awards and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His new book is The Book of Obama: How We Got From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt. 

Housing

To the candidates: Lead - or follow and get out of the race

Updated