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Jeff Faux: Romney will try to mitigate the message, but people’s confusion about the crisis and Obama’s failures, presents right with historic opportunity

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In several of my interviews, I’ve been asking guests to explain just why it is that Romney–Ryan, starting with Romney, think they can win on a campaign of an unmitigated hard-right agenda. When Bush ran in 2000, he had to call it compassionate conservatism. And the last time there was such an overt right agenda, fiscally right agenda, I guess would have been Barry Goldwater, and that didn’t turn out so well. So the obvious answer to my question of why they are going to run on such a agenda now is, well, because they can. Well, that will be the subject of this interview: if that’s true, why can they? What is it about this moment in American history that the Republicans think they can win the presidency with such a campaign?

Now joining us to help us answer this question is Jeff Faux. Jeff is founder and now distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He’s an economist, a writer. His latest book is The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite Is Sending the Middle Class. Thanks for joining us, Jeff.


JAY: Okay. So if you more or less buy my assumption—if you don’t, then say so, but if you do, then what is it about this moment they think they can win with such a campaign?

FAUX: Well, I think that they are going to dress it up, they are going to modify it, and I think that Ryan’s speech last night tells you what they’re going to say: they’re going to soft-pedal the hardline after this convention. I mean, what they’ve got to do is energize their troops, and they’re trying to do that as best they can.

But I think what—Ryan gives us a clue. First what they’re going to do is they’re going to throw George Bush to the wolves. That is, Obama says correctly that much of our problem started with the previous administration. Ryan says, forget about that; we don’t care about George Bush; all we know is that in the four years of Obama, things haven’t gotten any better. So they have already—you know, despite all this stuff, they’ve already—they’re already neck-and-neck in the polls, and Romney is ahead when the question is asked, who do you think can better manage the economy. So the hardline stuff comes from them with entitlements, with Medicare, with Social Security, with the threats to all of that, and they are going to soft-pedal that.

JAY: I guess what I’m getting at is that there’s sort of a historic—.

FAUX: [inaud.] to the audience last night and said, Medicare is a solemn promise for us. That tells you that they’re not going to go into this, you know, attacking the popular programs that people like and that makes them uncomfortable when they get attacked.

JAY: I guess what I’m getting at is that there seems to be a sort of historic weakness of American workers, and that there’s such confusion amongst large sections of the working class about why there is a crisis, what to do about the crisis. And if you agree with that, then, one, how much blame do you lay on the Obama administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party for that? And then, two, how much do issues like globalization, the extent to which the unions have been beaten up, and that the hard right just thinks they’re sort of a moment of opportunity here to win on an agenda that they could never have publicly won before—?

FAUX: Yes. And the reason—I mean, there’s—it’s a very important and big question. First, you know, history tells us that incumbent presidents don’t lose because people love the challenger. I mean, even in 1980, people had no idea what Ronald Reagan stood for. What they knew was that they were tired of Jimmy Carter. And so the Republicans are betting that they’ve got that done. When Ronald Reagan turned to the audience in the debate of 1980 and he said, are you better off now than you were four years ago, that was the end of that campaign. And Obama, the Obama people better understand that that’s something similar that Romney’s going to do.

So the first thing is: it’s not that the American working class has suddenly turned to the right so much as they were disappointed in what the mainstream left, Obama, delivered. And the fact is that most people—and, you know, the unemployment rate is higher, incomes are lower. Most people, you know, are worse off.

Now, I know that a lot of that’s got to do with George Bush and what happened in the decades before Obama became president. You know. But most Americans are, hey, what have you done for me lately. When Ryan said last night, why would you expect the next four years to be better than the last four years if Obama’s reelected, I thought that was a powerful message.

And the problem is that the Democrats have not really stood up to the task of explaining why we’re in this crisis to the American people. You know, Obama says, well, you know, we didn’t have the—our message wasn’t good enough. And it wasn’t about the message. It was explaining to people why we got into this.

And part of the problem with the Obama administration has been that because they ended up bringing in Wall Street into their administration, ended up bailing out Wall Street, that they became—you know, it became very difficult for them to engage in what some people call class warfare. Well, if there was ever a time when we needed class warfare in this country, it was right after the financial crash and Wall Street was on the run. The whole conservative economics was discredited. And yet there was no—it was an educable moment, as they say, and the Democrats didn’t educate people.

JAY: And I guess—and part of that is the extent to which the Obama presidency is a presidency of a section of Wall Street. It was financed by them, he brought them in to manage the economy, and that’s who he was. And in some sense I don’t think he could have had much other expectations of that. It was pretty obvious that’s who he was. But what do you make of the leadership of the major trade unions, who don’t have an independent voice, who have done very little to educate their own members? Maybe you could say they don’t have a platform to educate the society; but many of their own unionized members are going to wind up voting for Romney here.

FAUX: But it’s still the case that unionized members, union members vote for more progressive and liberal candidates in a much larger proportion than average workers. You know, part of the problem with the labor movement is that they ended up being too dependent on the Democratic Party, and when Clinton stiffed them on labor law reform, you know, they felt they had no place to go. Obama did the same thing. But it definitely is a problem

The labor unions right now, you know, they’ve been complaining about Obama. I think the new head of the AFL-CIO is pretty aggressive, assertive guy. But in the end they’re looking at a possible Romney-Reagan Republican administration that will not just be indifferent to their needs but will be hostile to their needs. So it’s like, you know, this is better than what we could get.

JAY: Now, I’ve heard—.

FAUX: But it doesn’t help with the consciousness-raising problem.

JAY: Yeah, that’s the point. Like, I hear some of these leaders out on the—talking to their members, campaigning, and they talk about President Obama’s our guy, his heart’s in the right place, he’s on our side—no contextualization critique, no sense that, okay, maybe we need Obama over Romney, but we have our own interests, and Obama’s not interesting representing that. There’s none of that. It’s just straight campaign rhetoric.

FAUX: … a little bit. I think there is some of that more than there was in the past. Is there enough? I couldn’t argue. But at the same time, they’re losing membership every day and their backs are to the wall.

The other side of that coin, Paul, is the question of why don’t the Democrats get that if it wasn’t for the labor movement, they would never reelected. And so the Democratic Party over the last 20 years has watched their major ally weaken year after year after year. And, you know, their reaction was: well, that’s none of our business.

At the same time, they’re taking more money from the corporate sector. You know, Wall Street has infiltrated this administration, as we know. So the balance within the party has shifted considerably.

So, you know, the American working class voted—five years ago, if you’d have said—or six years ago, maybe, if you’d have said the American working class would have voted for a African-American college professor who’s president of the United States, you know, you’d have thought you were out of your mind. But they did, and they did because the economy was going south under Bush. And I think it’s—you’ve got to look at what the Democrats have come up with to understand why there’s so much disaffection.

JAY: Right. Now, what about the—.

FAUX: It’s suicidal in a sense, because I think that the labor unions this next time around, if there is a Republican administration, they’re going to be crushed. But, you know, people out there are—the media coverage, everything—. I was in a restaurant a few weeks ago up in Maine, and I look through the door to the bar, and there were five anti-Obama commercials in about 25 minutes. So this is going to be—this is going to be relentless.

JAY: And the other part that doesn’t get talked—.

FAUX: Getting back to your original question, I think they’re going to modify their hardline.

JAY: The other part that doesn’t get talked about very much in the media coverage—there’s lots of attention on the issue of the commercials, but the actual coverage of the convention, the profile of Romney, the way nightly news covers the horse race as if it’s equal and they’re just competing arguments, the lack of any sense of analysis and news that most of—anyone who watches The Real News knows I’m no big defender of the Obama administration—but the banality of the Republican argument that’s been disproved over and over and over again, year after year, as being nonsensical, this idea that you fight for equality of opportunity, not outcome. And I’ve yet to hear of someone point—a Republican policy that’s actually been enacted, either at the state level or federal level under a Republican government, that actually gave rise to equality of opportunity, if you take them at their own rhetoric. But nobody in the mainstream news talks about this. What do you make of media coverage of these elections?

FAUX: I think it’s terrible. I mean, even The New York Times, right, this newspaper of record, this morning commenting—the first couple of paragraphs and the stories about Ryan’s speech talked about how—you know, he talked about small government and how his plan for small government—. Well, he doesn’t have a plan for small government, and they know it. I mean, he’s—his budget, you know, with a budget like Ryan’s, full of lies and distortions, including a big one on Medicare, there’s no way that this is going to end up with some prosperous small-government country.

The other thing about—by the way, about government that I think is important is that the Democrats, you know, have conceded the attack on big government. It really started with Clinton, or maybe you could even say with Jimmy Carter, when they started joining the Republicans in their criticism of big government. You know, Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over. So everybody’s against big government now when it’s big business and big Wall Street and big banks that got us into this problem, and that if it hadn’t been for big government being willing to spend some money in the Obama years, we’d—the unemployment rate would be double that it is now. But nobody stands up there and says, wait a minute, this is a big country. We’ve got big problems. You know, we’re going to need big government. And so the Romney-Ryan people get away with, oh, well, of course we’re going to save the military from being cut and we’re going to expand the military. Well, what is the military if it’s not big government?

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Jeff.

FAUX: Okay.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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