The New Standard of Governance


end-world-survival-guide-staying-alive-during-zombie-apocalypse.w654The standard of good governance in the Republican party has become this won’t be the end of the world.

Let’s rewind. The country has been riddled with Congress-made crises for the past few years, from sequestration, to threats of government shutdowns, to refusals to raise the debt ceiling. The Republican party has used these items as bargaining chips in attempts to extract absurd concessions e.g. repeal Obamacare. Instead of using normal negotiating tactics, they’ve opted for a series of hostage negotiations where they use threats of catastrophe to get what they want. 

When they first started this they never went through with their threats and last-minute deals were always made. But not any more. At the beginning of this year, sequestration, a law never meant to go into effect but merely force a compromise, went into effect. The Republican response to furloughed workers, de-funded Head Start programs, and cancer clinics turning away patients was that this is not the end of the world. In fact, these cuts will actually help economy. Goldmach Sachs disagrees – but that’s for another day. 

Recently, Congress, faced with the threat of a government shutdown, did in fact shut down the government because Republicans were upset Democrats refused to repeal Obamacare. The Republicans have every right to repeal a law but not to use repeal as an ultimatum.  Now that the government shut down it means more furloughed workers, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) recipients receiving less care, and the National Parks closing. The Republican response to this is a shutdown isn’t the end of the world

And now the government is about to reach the debt limit and Congress is debating whether to raise the debt ceiling. If we choose not to the government will default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history; it will be catastrophic to the world economy. At first Republicans agreed with this sentiment, but as we approach the date Republicans are re-thinking their position. Some are saying breaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t be all that bad. Some are saying we won’t default since the government can prioritize payments – a process Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, said would be “Chaos.”  Even if this were possible it would still mean other government payments would cease; “Surprise! No Social Security for you this month!”  But hey, it wouldn’t be the end of the world…

And that’s where we are now. We have one party who believes so long as the negative consequences of their actions aren’t the end of the world then it’s not that big of deal. So long as the country isn’t imploding on itself then it’s okay to go from one hostage negotiation to the next in order to do what… Lower taxes? Cut entitlements? Try once more to repeal Obamcare? Sequestration and the government shutdown were not the end of the world, but they still caused unnecessary suffering and hardship. Breaching the debt ceiling will only add to that. Simply because something doesn’t create an absolute disaster should not be the standard of good governance. The sad thing is Republicans are content with precisely this measure.

I Thought We Didn’t Negotiate With Terrorists?


“The Debt Ceiling is the only leverage the GOP has to get some spending cuts.”

Debate from my previous post, What Republicans Want… I Don’t Know, prompted a commenter to write that sentence. The sentence, although not filled with heated rhetoric or vitriol, encapsulates the dysfunction within the Republican Party and our current political system.

Before I get to why, a little lesson on the debt ceiling is needed. The debt ceiling is an artificial problem with profoundly real consequences. Each year, Congress passes laws concerning taxation levels and spending programs. If spending is greater than the tax revenue brought in then the government has to borrow money to make up the difference. That borrowing, is “raising the debt ceiling.” The money has already been spent, but needs to be paid back. This is important to understand. By not raising the debt ceiling the government is not saving money or acting fiscally responsible; it is simply not paying its bills. Which by the way is against the law.

In effect, Congress is fighting with itself; arguing about paying for programs already passed as law. Republicans can talk all they want about spending cuts, but that is not related to the debt ceiling. Once again, it is money already spent. Republicans are simply using the debt ceiling as a bargaining tool to get what they want. As I said, it’s an artificial problem. Raising the debt ceiling will not make us worse off or increase our debt. Congress agreed to a certain amount of spending, they spent that money, and now Republicans don’t want to pay it back.

Although this is a fabricated problem by Republicans; the consequences of their threats are all too real. If the U.S. government defaults on its debt it would wreak havoc on still fragile financial markets as well as hurt our standing on the world stage. If that seems too abstract, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein puts it in very real terms:

” The FBI will shut down. The people responsible for tracking down loose nukes will lose their jobs. The prisons won’t operate. The biomedical researchers won’t be funded. The court system will close its doors. The tax refunds won’t go out. The Federal Aviation Administration will go offline. The parks will close. Food safety inspections will cease.”

The debt ceiling is not just government jargon, economic fuddling, or accounting trickery; it is very real, and the effects of not raising the debt ceiling will be felt very quickly. Which brings me back to this sentence: “The Debt Ceiling is the only leverage the GOP has to get some spending cuts.”

The debt ceiling debate, the one manufactured by Republicans that would cause devastation and hardship, is a game for conservatives; something they can use as leverage. Republicans are willing to devastate the economy in order to don’t get what they want. That is not how governance in this country works; we do not govern via a system of threats and hostage negations, well, not until now. Republicans are strapping a bomb to themselves, threatening to detonate it unless their spending cuts (demands) are met.

holding americans hostage

The GOP realizes this is the only way to pass their out of touch and unpopular agenda. And here lies the problem with our political system. One Party, one crazy enough to default on our debt, is wielding control through unprecedented governing and threats of economic collapse. A successful two-party system necessitates compromise with both sides willing to give; obviously, this isn’t happening. Republicans have decided to forgo normal negations for one with which they use the health of the economy as a bargaining chip.

Instead of addressing real problems like high unemployment or a warming planet we are debating whether or not to pay our bills. And the GOP thinks this is totally fine. As my one commenter said it’s the GOP’s only leverage to cut spending. It’s sad we are dealing with threats from inside our own government. It’s sad Republicans think our economic and financial stability is all just a game. And it’s sad the Grand Old Party thinks it’s just fine to hold the wellbeing of our country hostage to get what it wants.

What Republicans Want… I Don’t Know


gop_elephant__question_lgAs the fiscal cliff debate unfolded over these past couple of months, one thing became clear – the Republican position is murkier than ever. I honestly have no idea what the right wants concerning issues like entitlement reform, spending cuts, and the debt.

We know Republicans want tax cuts; specifically for the wealthy. The fiscal cliff became a battle waged solely over the Bush tax cuts for top earners. The small percentage of people affected by those top-tier tax cuts became the most important Americans, and the Republican Party was willing to let taxes increase on everybody in order to make an ideological statement.

The logic of this position is still baffling. Republicans were fighting to keep taxes low for the top 2 percent with the threat of raising taxes on 100 percent of the population. While arguing higher taxes would hinder economic growth, more than half of House Republicans voted to go off the cliff and raise taxes on everyone. It was an illogical position from the start.

We can be sure Republicans want to cut taxes for the rich; however, the same cannot be said for the middleclass and less affluent. Although there was very little discussion over the payroll tax cut, an EPI study concluded extending the payroll tax holiday would provide the greatest benefit to cost ratio of all the taxes that were scheduled to increase on January 1. Disappointingly, Democrats did not fight too hard for an extension, but it shouldn’t have even been a fight. Why would the Party so concerned about cutting taxes for the top 2 percent be against extending tax cuts for everyone else? Possibly because the payroll tax cut largely benefited the middleclass, not campaign donors “Job Creators.”

Delving deeper into convoluted Republican positions, one doesn’t have to listen to John Boehner too long to hear talk of reforming entitlements and getting the debt under control. Both ideas sound very conservative, but without any substantive policies back those ideas, it’s nothing more than base-appeasing rhetoric.

Concerning entitlement reform: throughout all the negations, Republicans proposed no actual entitlement reforms, instead, demanded President Obama lay out his own reforms. Besides being a cowardly political move (fearing reform proposals would be fodder for a future attack), why should that be the President’s responsibility? The President wanted to raise taxes and Republicans wanted to reform entitlements. It would make sense for each side to devise a plan according to their desire. The President did his part, but Republicans did nothing, and then blamed Democrats for inaction.

Furthermore, President Obama actually offered changes to Social Security. He proposed calculating Social Security benefits with a chained CPI method. Fancy talk for a benefit cut that slows growth in Social Security spending. Republicans rejected this offer because it would have meant going against their illogical and ideological position to never raise taxes (on the rich). So what do Republicans mean when they speak about entitlement reform? They offered no ideas of their own and rejected the one put forth by President Obama. To be fair, the Ryan Plan did offer changes to entitlements, but they were not reforms. They fundamentally changed the programs; drastically cutting benefits, with no evidence of actually working in practice.

Beyond entitlement reform, is talk of debt management. But where is the evidence Republicans care about decreasing the debt? Their whole position is to lower taxes and magically increase revenue. It is no coincidence that as tax rates are at all time lows, tax revenues have also been at all time lows. Republicans say closing loopholes will bring in revenue, but have yet to mention a specific loophole they are willing to close. They say they want to rein in entitlement spending, but haven’t offered any reforms to those programs besides simply cutting them. And they say they want to cut wasteful spending, but at the same time favor allocating more money to defense than the next 13 countries combined (and still want more!).

Truly, I am confused about the Republican position. Yes, they want lower taxes, but really only for the rich. Other than that, who knows? They talk big about reforming entitlements and decreasing our debt, but none of their policies reflect those beliefs.

3 Reasons I Disagree with Mike Huckabee


204x204-mike-huckabeeCirculating through the blogosphere and social media is Mike Huckabee’s response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He did not blame the shooting on guns, or attribute it to a crazed individual, but instead, blamed it on a lack of “God” in our society. An honest explication of his position is he feels America has gradually shifted away from a religious nation and into a more secular one. And as the teachings of God become less prevalent in our culture, our culture has become more violent.

A lot on the right have taken a liking to this line of thinking. It skirts the issue of gun control and advances the Evangelical agenda – one where religion has a larger role in the public sphere. But quite honestly, it is illogical and misguided.

First, it assumes religion, and particularly western religion, is the sole arbiter of what’s right and wrong. It assumes only God knows what’s moral, and without him, we are left with an amoral society. In his monologue, Huckabee cites the 10 Commandments, specifically the 6th; “thou shall not kill” as evidence that if only we followed Christianity more closely we would not have nearly as many murders. Do we really believe we need religion or God to know killing is wrong? Are we as a society reliant on God to tell us where our moral compasses should point? Or is it more plausible that religion just reiterates what we already know to be right or wrong. The 10 Commandments are pretty much commonsense (except for the 2nd – not sure why an all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing being deals with problems of jealousy, but that’s a separate issue). Removing religion from public facets of society isn’t depriving or dismantling our moral beliefs. We can have morals without religion.

Second, his argument assumes the more widespread God is in our society the more peaceful it will become. Let’s not forget, people have been killing in the name of God for centuries. Religion doesn’t promote peace, if anything it has caused senseless and unnecessary death. The teachings of religion may not promote killing, but the practice of religion has without a doubt prompted murder. 9/11 was killing in the name of God. Those who blow up abortion clinics are killing in the name of God. Hate crimes against gay and lesbians are violence in the name of God. Religion has the unique ability to instill hatred in people without any rational backing for that hate.

Third, Huckabee’s position is so American centric, it becomes illogical upon actual analysis. 15 of the 25 most deadly mass shootings occurred in America. (Finland came in a not-so-close second with 2 entries to that list.) Yet, America is by no means the most secular nation. Many European countries are far more secular with much greater populations of atheists, but they do not have anywhere near as many violent acts as we do. They do have stricter gun control laws though. It’s worth noting, the most violent region in the United States is the South, also referred to as the ‘Bible Belt.’

Instead of blaming too little religion, or not enough God as the problem;  let’s look at solutions that actually make sense e.g. banning assault weapons or increasing funding for mental health diseases.  I’m not condemning religion, or those who practice religion, but what Mike Huckabee is purporting is disconnected with reality. It is comments like his that slow the process of actual and meaningful legislation concerning gun control. By making gun control a non-issue, he is dismissing the actual issue at hand in order to appease the gun-wielding portion of his base and advance his agenda of making us a more Christian nation.

Yes, Let’s Talk About Gun Control


360_fareed_0820It seems the only time the issue of guns and gun control is at the forefront of the national conversation is after a tragedy like that of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  At the same time though, as the nation ponders the issue, there are also societal murmurings and whispers that we must not politicize this event, or use it to advance political agendas. Here lies the crux of the problem of gun violence in our country. The only time we as a society think about reforming gun laws occurs simultaneously with an understanding that we must not use one event – one tragedy – to determine the laws of our nation.

So we are stuck with the status quo. We are stuck with a system where attaining a gun comes with relative ease, including guns meant for killing. Assault rifles, semi-automatics, and high-capacity magazines can all be legally obtained. These are weapons not for sport, not for hunting, and not for personal protection; they are weapons designed to kill.

Advocates of guns will give their usual objections about gun control laws after tragedies like the one that occurred last week, saying people like the shooter are insane, mentally disturbed individuals; gun control laws will not prevent people from shooting up schools, malls or movie theatres. This may be true. It may be impossible to create gun control laws to stop disturbed individuals intent on killing indiscriminately from doing precisely that.

But, let’s remember, the vast majority of victims of gun violence are not the victims of mass shootings. Gun violence happens daily. There were close to 9,000 gun related homicides in 2011 accounting for 67 percent of all homicides, and the frequency of gun violence in the United States is much greater than that of other OECD countries; however, it takes a national tragedy for us to talk about gun control. This is problematic because the dialogue around reforming gun laws centers on trying to prevent the next Sandy Hook, or the next Aurora movie theatre, which is without a doubt, a difficult task.

A not as difficult task is creating laws that will help curb all the other forms of gun violence. Restricting access to guns, and banning guns solely meant for killing is a good start. A Harvard Study discovered that where there are more guns there are more homicides – a not-so-groundbreaking revelation. This coupled with the fact that the majority of guns are obtained legally leads us to conclude that if guns were harder to obtain, gun violence would be reduced.

Instead of implementing reasonable gun control laws, we do nothing because we become ensconced with the belief that no amount of laws will prevent insane individuals from shooting up public places. We let the extreme cases of gun violence paralyze all gun-related policy. Instead of enacting reasonable laws like stricter background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning semi-automatic and assault weapons, increasing funding for mental health problems, and banning magazines and clips that hold inexplicable amounts of ammunition, we do nothing. We hide behind the excuse that these laws will not stop all gun violence.

However, just because these laws may not have stopped Adam Lanza or James Eagan Holmes from committing such horrifying acts doesn’t mean new laws would be useless or in vain. Gun violence is so prevalent in this country that homicides simply become statistics, and it’s only until we face mass murder that we stop charting those statistics and put a face to them. It’s why only after a shooting rampage do we think about reforming gun control laws. Let’s remember, every statistic is a person, a person with a family and friends, and if stricter gun control laws can prevent just one of those cases, I say it’s worth it.

This doesn’t mean restricting individual freedoms, or eviscerating the Second Amendment. I’m not saying all guns should be banned, but gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and therefore it should come with restrictions. The goal of gun control laws is not to make us less free – but to make us safer.

Not Makers and Takers, Just People


One theme that emerged from this most recent election (and from the comment section of this post) is that the American electorate is divided into two categories – the makers and the takers. This being embodied by Mr. Romney’s “47 percent” comment (those who pay no federal income tax) and his post-election comment about President Obama’s victory being the result of him promising gifts. Fox News agreed with this line of thinking, which prompted Bill O’Reilly to say half the country just wants “things.”gifts

Where I disagree with Bill O’Reilly is that he believes only half the country wants “things” – the whole country does. Every single person wants some “thing.”   The nation isn’t made up of makers and takers – it’s made up of HUMANS. Take any Econ (micro) 101 class and at the core is the basic principle that people act out of self-interest. People make decisions to maximize utility, or as I had one Professor put it, “People make decisions to make them happier.”

It’s not that we have a nation of have’s and have not’s or makers and takers; we have a nation of people. People who want to maximize their wellbeing. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when people vote in their own self-interest. Women, Hispanics, and the youth tend to vote more Democratic because Democratic ideals and principles align more closely with their self-interest. Conservatives can say Democrats are in the business of giving away gifts, but this same practice goes for Republicans as well.

The wealthy, the ones who vote Republican, are voting in their own self-interest. The Republican Party is committed to lowering taxes on corporations and top earners. They are committed to fewer environmental regulations. And they are committed to rolling back financial reform. All these are gifts to many Republican donors and voters. It’s pretty simple; both parties offer “gifts” – then the people vote accordingly.

The right doesn’t see it this way though because they believe their model is not just about helping the rich; they believe their model will benefit everyone – that wealth trickles down. It’s a convenient way of thinking, but it’s disconnected with reality. Taxes are at all time lows and have been on the decline since the 80’s, yet we’ve seen no economic boom, only an increase in income inequality. Lax environmental regulations have contributed to an increasingly warmer planet. And dismantling regulations like Dodd-Frank would get rid of the one piece of legislation attempting to prevent another financial collapse.

Republicans like to believe Democrats want people to stay reliant upon the government, which is why the left is usually more in favor of expanding the safety net. However, unlike the Republican model, the Democratic model has historically been successful. Democrats believe in the idea that wealth and prosperity do not stem from the rich or the ‘job creators'; they believe it starts with the average worker. And contrary to a lot of conservatives, this isn’t liberal dogma or some high-minded moral sentiment, it’s actually economically backed. Economies operate on simple supply and demand. As overall demand (or aggregate demand) increases the economy responds and grows.

Demand starts with the many, not the few. It starts with the average person spending their disposable income on goods and services. So in times of recession when people are out of work or their hours are cut, they have less disposable income and the economy slows. This is where government can help, it can step in and provide people with income assistance to not only ensure people can survive, but to actually help get the country out of its slump. It was government spending that got us out of the Great Depression, and although Republicans will disagree, economist are pretty much in agreement that Obama’s stimulus helped in this recovery. So it’s not that Democrats want people to stay reliant upon government, rather, Democrats realize government can help; government can do good.

The right can say Mr. Obama gave people gifts, but it’s no different than when Republicans offer gifts to their supporters. The only difference being that Democrats’ gifts have to lead prosperity in the past while the Republican gifting model has only lead to sharp income inequality, lackluster economic performance, and oh yeah, all those tax cuts that have done nothing but contribute to our debt.

Understanding a Progressive Tax Code


FeaturedImageAs confusion over tax rates and the fiscal cliff dominates the conversation in Washington, it is becoming apparent people do not understand how a progressive tax code works. . A progressive tax code increases a person’s tax rate as their income increases unlike more regressive taxes, which set a uniform rate regardless of income. The federal income tax, being the most progressive tax, has 5 different brackets or tiers. As an individual earns more, that income is taxed at a higher rate with rates set at 10%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%. The top rate of 35%, which gets all the attention, is only paid on income over $200,000 for an individual or over $250,000 for a couple.

Now, if a person makes $251,000 a year, all that income is not then taxed at 35%. Only $1,000 (the amount over $250,000) is taxed at 35%. Everybody, from business owners to the working poor, pays the same amount in taxes on the same amount of income. Whether it’s a CEO who makes a million dollars a year or a factory workers who makes $50,000 a year, both pay the same tax rate on the first $50,000 they earn. The difference is the CEO goes on to make much more, and that money, and only that money, is taxed at a higher rate.

Understanding people will not all of a sudden be forced to pay exorbitantly more in taxes because they make more money has important implications for a lot of the arguments thrown around in tax rate discussions.

It seriously weakens the argument that raising taxes will disincentivize people to make more money – the “why work harder if Uncle Sam is just gonna take my money” people.  This argument falsely assumes if you make too much money then you will be bumped up into the next tax bracket and therefore have a greater tax burden. As noted before, it is only those dollars above the set limits that are taxed at the higher rate; it’s only the dollars greater than $250,000 that are taxed at 35%.

This also has important implications for the debate over whether or not to let the Bush tax cuts expire. The Bush tax cuts were across the board cuts for every income bracket. If they do expire the 10%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% rates will increase to 15%, 28%, 31%, 36%, and 39.6% respectively. It is unlikely we will see all these rates go up, but what is likely to happen is the top two rates will go up (33% to 36% and 35% to 39.6%).  This has prompted rage from the Republican Party, and is the basis for the claim that the President is engaging in class warfare.  The richest Americans will pay higher taxes on some of their income, but as Ezra Klein has pointed out, “It’s an under appreciated fact that extending the Bush tax cuts on income up to $250,000 cuts taxes for rich people, too.”

Republicans also defend low rates on the top 2 percent of people by deeming it as an attack on small businesses citing those that file their earnings as personal income.  Small businesses, ones that pay their taxes on an individual basis and make more than $250,000 would see a higher tax burden if those top rates expired. But, those businesses still receive a tax cut on their income up to $250,000. And 97 percent of small businesses do not fall into this upper echelon.

So as the parties continue to wage debates over tax rates and the Bush tax cuts remember the importance of a progressive tax code in all these discussions.

Are Republicans Turning Keynesian?


With the election over, all attention is now being directed at the fiscal cliff. Basically, at the beginning of 2013 a series of tax cuts are set to expire like the payroll tax break and the Bush tax cuts. Along with the expiring tax cuts is a slew of mandatory spending cuts.  Both parties agree this could throw the country back into a recession. Both parties agree this contraction in spending will hurt the economy. And both parties agree this is something we need to avoid.

Before I continue, I’d like to rewind the clock a couple of years back to when Republicans took control of the House. In 2010 a Republican wave swept into Congress and changed the national dialogue from economic recovery to deficit reduction. They made the national debt and deficit the central issue. They claimed that addressing the nation’s spending problem would put us on a ‘path to prosperity.’  The story went something like this: We have to stop the reckless spending in order to restore confidence in the markets, this will in turn lead to an increase in investment, and we will then see a robust recovery. In economics this is known as expansionary austerity i.e. Europe’s recovery plan.

Now, fast-forward to today where the Republicans could get everything they wanted back in 2010 by simply doing nothing. If Republicans truly bought their argument that government was spending too much money, and the best way to improve the economy was to cut spending then Republicans should be more than willing to drive right off the fiscal cliff. The expiring tax breaks combined with the mandatory cuts would reduce government spending by over $700 billion just in 2013 (5.1% of GDP). The deficit hawks of 2010 should be drooling over this, but instead of embracing the fiscal cliff, Republicans agree with Democrats that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

So, back in 2010 Republicans believed government spending was the problem and needed to be reined in, but now Republicans are arguing that cutting government spending will throw the economy back into a recession. Essentially saying that not only can government spending be helpful, but cutting it would be hurtful. The Republicans have officially becomes Keynesians!

So what happened?

Is the Republican Party really changing? No. Although Republicans talk about being fiscally conservative, and talk even louder about solving the ‘debt crisis’ – they really don’t care about the debt. The poster child of fiscal conservatism, Paul Ryan, devised a plan that would take over two decades to balance the budget.

What’s going on in the Republican Party is much more cynical. They are using the guise of fiscal responsibility in order to advance their agenda of changing the role of government. They believe in a minimalist government. Not one that actually tackles the debt problem, but one that cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans and sets up a system for the rich to get richer, the poor to get poorer, and the middle-class to disappear. They envision an Ayn Rand world where government has no responsibility to take care of the less advantaged. Hence the reason why the Ryan Plan cuts Medicare, and makes even deeper cuts to Medicaid. And why the vast majority of the savings in the plan comes not from bloated defense spending, or slight tax increases on the top two percent of earners, but rather to programs that benefit the poor and the needy.

You may agree with this. You may think government should let everyone fend for themselves – but don’t be fooled into thinking this is fiscal responsibility. Don’t be fooled into thinking the only way we can balance our budget is on the backs of poor by cutting the programs on which they rely. And don’t be fooled into thinking that giving the ‘job creators’ more money will somehow lead to prosperity.

Republicans are not the party of deficit hawks or fiscal conservatives (which is why they don’t want us to go off the fiscal cliff). They are the Party that wants to fundamentally change the role of government in the economy. A role that no longer helps the most disadvantaged in society, but one that caters to the most advantaged

Why the Economy Doesn’t Matter


Okay – obviously it does. We still have weak economic growth, high unemployment, and a lack of consumer confidence. However, as Keynes pointed out decades ago, and as Paul Krugman recently referenced, due to “use, decay, and obsolescence” economies eventually fix themselves. Basically, as products, machinery, or equipment grows old, breaks down, or becomes obsolete – it needs to be replaced. This means businesses and individuals start buying more products, and the economy returns itself to normal.

I bring this up because so often the question in the Presidential race is who is best suited to fix this economy. Not to say this issue shouldn’t be addressed, but it overshadows so many other issues. Since we are in a recession, we as a country forget there are other problems and issues a President must address.

The United States is facing an education crisis; our standing on the world stage continually dropping. Not to mention there are underfunded and understaffed schools across the country.  Both sides have offered little more than campaign platitudes, and good feeling rhetoric like “Hire more teachers!” In fairness to the President though, he does have his Race to the Top initiative, which focuses on increasing funding for k-12 education. (He did a terrible job communicating details of the plan during the debate) Similarly, Democrats have been trying to increase funding for Pell grants, and are working to  keep interest rates low on student loans. Conversely, the Ryan plan slashes education, including cuts to programs like Head Start and Pell grants. Also, we have seen Republican Governors attempt to balance their budgets by getting rid of teachers and other public employees.

The next President is also likely to make two Supreme Court nominees, which means whomever wins this election, his stance on social issues will have a greater bearing on policy than normal. This is troubling, especially considering we have absolutely no idea what Mitt Romney actually believes on the issue of abortion, and in the debate, Paul Ryan hinted he would be in favor of overturning Roe vs. Wade. Furthermore, as state courts contemplate the issue of gay marriage, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court weighs in. Yes, jobs are important, but it is also important that women continue to have the right to make decisions about their body, and it is also important we work toward giving all persons equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.

Finally, as I’ve argued before, the greatest threat to this country is not the debt, it’s not China, and contrary to many Catholic groups, it’s not gay people – it’s climate change. Climate change not only threatens the lives  of people across the globe, but it has and will continue to devastate the world economy. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to fix, and the harder it will be to reverse. Addressing climate change will be the single most difficult task our country has faced. Not because we don’t know how to fix it, or it’s a problem on too big of a scale to solve – it’s because one of the political parties doesn’t even believe it exists. Even though the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in support of climate change, the right insists it must be a left-wing conspiracy.

So as election day nears, remember, this country faces more challenges than just the economy. They are challenges of a type that being a businessman doesn’t automatically qualify you to address. As voters we should elect a President who believes in funding the eduction of future generations, not cutting it in the name of fiscal responsibility. We should elect a President who believes in protecting the rights of women and extending equal rights to all persons, not suppressing individual liberties to cater to the extreme wing of the base. And although both parties have stalled on the issue of climate change, for God’s sake, we should elect a President who sides with the scientists (and the rest of the developed world for that matter) and recognizes the threat is real, not one who believes the entire scientific community is pulling some giant prank.

P.S. I also believe Obama is better suited to fix the economy – See here, here, here, and here