Thursday, March 18, 2010

Does Congress and the Whitehouse Understand Why Senator Scott Brown Won?

When I saw the television evening news clip of President Obama at the Boston rally urging voters to vote for Martha Coakley on January 17 with his statement “Anyone can buy a truck.”, my first reaction was “No, Mr. President, they can’t.” My first thoughts were: Not only can many not buy a truck right now, but many are having a hard time for the first time in their lives just paying for food and their house payment. Many can’t believe they are facing car repossession, a foreclosure, or even a personal bankruptcy due to a prolonged unemployment rate of officially 10% to a reality rate of 17%; or they can’t believe their business revenue has been down 30% or more for over a year.

Many have seen a doubling and tripling of their credit card interest rate and minimum payments (with little notice) levied by the same banks bailed out by taxpayers even though they have been good customers. And we watched Congress congratulate itself for “credit card reform” legislation enacted last year with enough time before implementation in the legislation for banks to drive up rates and increase payment amounts prior to enactment. We are all seeing a general economic job growth checkmate brought on by uncertain business costs (taxes, health care cost, energy costs) and a government viewed by wary investors as unfriendly to business and profit.

I felt this truck talking point, that was no doubt thought of as clever in the intent of mocking the populous appeal of Scott Brown by the speech writers that wrote it, actually revealed a not so clever absence of being relatable to one or more out of every five Americans struggling and wishing they were in a stable enough financial position to buy a truck. In fact, even those with jobs or a surviving small business would have a hard time buying a truck right now, because bank loans are hard to come by for those without a 700+ FICO score or for those who have any other debt. And given the credit card interest and payment acceleration games going on the last several months, many are now behind on payments or have given up which has ruined their once excellent credit score.

The majority of these same now financially unstable people were quite stable even one or two years ago and generally through most of their lives up until now. These people are not looking for a government bailout – they want an appropriate job again, an end to usury credit card interest rates, an end to unfair credit and insurance practices, and a government that sees uplifting the down economy as priority one. They don’t want deficient spending that will impact the next 50 years in stifling higher tax rates for all – including the middle class - no matter what is promised now. They want the American Dream again for themselves and for their children and grandchildren.

As we all know, the Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts senate seat by a 5 point margin – shocking in the bluest of blue Democrat rule states. Actually, I don’t think President Obama’s truck comment or his stump appearance in general lost the race for Coakley. I don’t even think it was completely the health care debate in Washington that changed the seat to the Republican. Simply put, the Independent voters were the deciding factor in both the Scott Brown win in 2010 and the Barack Obama win in 2008. Many voters, even those that are registered Republican or Democrat, are actually more Independent voters in reality. In other words, the more partisan the politics have become in Washington, the more voters have been turned off to being affiliated with either major party. Voters will vote for the candidates they believe hear them and will be a vote in Congress that reflects their voice.

I am currently a registered Republican, but my views are more in line with being an Independent voter. It would benefit politicians wanting to keep their jobs this November and in 2012 to get to know the positions of the true Independent voters again. For example, I am more fiscally responsible than any true liberal. I am more socially tolerant than any true conservative. I can agree to disagree with someone on my political beliefs without name calling or personally demonizing them or their political party. I don’t like it when our elected politicians can not. I don’t expect every citizen or every politician I vote for to agree with me 100% to consider them a good person. I feel I exemplify the Independent voter.

I think it was voters of all parties that were tired of those in Washington not understanding and caring that their political antics and statements are affecting the economy that put Scott Brown in the Senate. Job growth is affected by Washington’s actions when the confidence of investors and banks to provide capital for job growth creation is lowered. When confidence is lowered, business owners are hesitant to increase any cost, especially their largest operating cost, which is usually adding new employees and thus their salaries and benefits. Voters realize that those in Washington are not personally and financially being affected by a hard economy as many of them, the voters, are. Voters resent that government is the largest growth sector especially in Washington D.C. itself. This fact is not a plus for Americans who know all government costs are paid for by taxes, and that all spending by Congress is increasing the national deficit.

It’s obvious to a majority of voters the $787 billion economic stimulus bill has not helped the economy and therefore them personally. It has not created real jobs, stopped lay-offs or slowed corporate or small business closings. It has not made the everyday lives of most Americans more financially stable. They can not simply go and buy that truck as the majority in Washington can, and those in Washington sadly don’t even realize the average American can’t. Voters are frustrated with those in Washington playing games with the language and real results of the stimulus spending “actually” creating permanent and real job growth.

Politicians play word games and political spin games while the unemployed continue to look for real jobs that have not been created. Voters wonder where billions of stimulus dollars were actually spent and for what. Voters raise their eyebrows when they hear each $45,000 per year job cost 8 to 10 times $45,000 to create it. Voters shake their heads when they hear seasonal jobs, part-time jobs, existing jobs, and a salary raise in an existing job are used in the figures to calculate the sum of new jobs created.

Voters can’t continue to borrow more money when loaded with debt. They can’t vote themselves a debt ceiling increase or avoid the consequence of personal pain for being in debt. Voters have personal consequences for not being able to pay their current bills that affect them today. And these consequences may continue to personally affect them for years to come. They get fired if they don’t do a good job. They don’t do one thing and say another and then casually spin it away in front of media cameras. They don’t meet behind closed doors and then say how transparent they are. They don’t consider raising taxes in a struggling business climate as a solution to the rising debt problem. They don’t ignore excessive spending as a root cause of rising debt.

I am not a “right-wing pro-greed, pro-war, corporate loving Republican conservative” or a “left-wing big government is the answer to everything, redistribution, nanny-state Democrat liberal”. I am not an evil, greedy capitalist at all costs. I am not an “everyone deserves the same outcome no matter the output” non-capitalist either. Like most Independent voters, I am sick of extremes. I do not like labels being placed on people or political parties. I am an independent thinker, and I do not think “party” when voting. I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans throughout my life. I vote for the candidate I like and for who has the best ideas for solutions to our country’s challenges.

I respect our founding fathers and our constitution. I am proud of America. I understand America is not perfect. I acknowledge mistakes have been made at times. (I was furious with President Bush and his administration for the failure to act effectively in the wake of the Katrina disaster.) But I also know America is the first country to give aid globally, and Americans are the most generous people in the world. I know “freedom” is not just a word to Americans. Freedom and national security are the first elements in our ability to pursue happiness.

I know government has a given role in America. But, I also know government can be a deterrent to its citizens and their prosperity when it exceeds its given role. Like most Independent voters, I believe in the free-market, yet I don’t believe insurance companies should be allowed to set their own profit agendas that include the practices of denying policy availability to those that have ever been sick or cutting off benefits to those policy holders that do get sick. I believe there is a need for health insurance reform, but I don’t want the government to take over health care or to mandate its purchase. I believe tort reform and interstate competition should be a part of any health care reform discussion as well as honesty to the American taxpayers in the true cost of the proposed reform. I don’t want the cost to break the backs of businesses leading to more unemployment and to taxpayers leading to more personal pain consequences.

I have never been about color or ethnicity. I celebrate the diversity that makes America interesting and strong. I don’t believe any business or company is too big to fail. I don’t believe the government should pick winners and losers in our economy. I don’t believe the government should use the tax code or exemptions to favor one group of citizens over another. I believe in a helping hand safety net to help lift someone to more stable ground, but I don’t believe in the deliberate use of government programs and policies for a redistribution political philosophy. You don’t lift some up by pulling others down. You also don’t ignore those that need a helping hand. But, you don’t offer that helping hand by having government take over a free market segment – any free market segment.

Independent voters are tired of the arrogance of both the Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. They are tired of the political rhetoric regarding the struggling middle class without job creation being the number one priority of Congress. They are tired of discussions on health care, cap and trade, and card check even being considered before working to stabilize the economy and affect real job creation which can only be accomplished by free market understanding and expansion. It can not be affected by government expansion which is in reality only taxpayer cost and risk expansion. It can only be affected by creating an economic environment in which confidence in private growth reward outweighs private growth risk. I am not an economist or in the financial industry, but I do have some sense of what has worked historically and what has not. I see what has worked in other countries and what has not.

I feel I have what many regular voters have, which is common sense. What I do know is you stop spending when you have no more money. What I do know is you don’t openly insult, talk down to, or ignore those you represent and their concerns and wishes. I believe this is why Scott Brown won the senate seat. He tapped into what the independent and common sense voters know, and he gave them confidence that he would represent their concerns and wishes in Washington.

He was smart to present himself as his own man and not a party man. He connected well with the independent thinkers and voters no matter the party affiliation they had if any. He drove a truck and didn’t give up when he was 30 points down in the polls a month before the election. He spoke with his voters - not at them or down to them. He listened to voters. He asked for their vote, and he made the voters feel like he deserved it. He assured them he wanted to go to Washington to get things done for them, and not to become a part of any political machine at their peril.

I realized the “truck” Obama used in his comment was really a symbol to me - a symbol of all that is the “American Dream” to many. That’s what Americans want – to be financially stable and to have the opportunity to provide for their families with dignity and pride. They want to be able to afford health care for their family and not have to fight with an insurance company for continued coverage if they get sick. But, they don’t want health care reform laden with excessive government intervention and new taxes. They don’t want new taxes levied on everyone except for those that are politically favored because of campaign contributions and lobbyist. They don’t want any bill completely being written behind closed doors and being rubber stamped by party affiliation without being read by Congress.

They want to work hard and to pay their fair share of taxes, but they do not want to be penalized by business-killing tax rates and demonizing rhetoric by their own government for being successful through hard work. The majority of successful American business owners and workers are honest and fair - they want this acknowledged. They want those that aren’t to be appropriately prosecuted and companies that aren’t to be allowed to fail.

Both the Republicans and Democrats in government at all levels need to relearn who they work for and reintroduce themselves to the needs and desires of their “people” as represented in “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Members of Congress also need to reacquaint themselves with who they were meant to be in the American “people” equation.

It would be smart for members of Congress to hold town hall meetings with the goals of listening and learning. (Voters do not want town hall meetings to simply be another opportunity for political spin.) This would allow meaningful representation of their constituents and ensure that members of Congress understand voters are now more independent thinking than partisan. Voters are intelligent. They are more informed and engaged than ever. And, it wouldn’t hurt to give up the limousine and drive to those town hall meetings to meet the voters in a truck.

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