In a speech to journalists at the Associated Press (AP) President Obama roundly criticized the House Republican budget proposal and its economic presuppositions. The President wasted no time in taking off the gloves while talking to reporters, describing the budget proposal itself as a “Trojan Horse” and indicting its economic presuppositions as “thinly veiled Social Darwinism.” Both statements are basically true.
President Obama claims the budget proposal passed by Republicans is properly described as a “Trojan Horse.” The analogy is apt. In the Iliad the mythical horse represents a gift to the people of Troy from Agamemnon and his invading armies, but it actually provides cover for Odysseus and his warriors to pass unknowingly through the city’s gates and wait for the cover of night. The story is pretty much down hill from there, for both the Trojans and their fair city, as well as Odysseus, who gets lost for twenty years on his way home. The same can be said for the Republican offer on the table. We drank that Kool-Aid long ago with Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Bush the Younger. After decades of trying it their way we find ourselves worse off than before: more economic inequality, job insecurity, poverty, and homelessness in the wake of the housing bubble’s collapse. Common sense is that a budget crisis of this proportion cannot be resolved by slashing budgets alone, especially when those cuts affect all of us in terms of social services. That means not just less aid for those most in need, but fewer firemen, police officers, and public workers to keep our streets clean and safe. The budget gap is simply too big and requires something that should have been done long ago: a tax code that is really progressive and makes everyone pay their “fair” share. This means you, too, wealthy folks.
The President’s substantially correct indictment of the Republican Party’s economic presuppositions is also spot-on. Roughly, the phrase “Social Darwinism” was coined in the 1870’s to describe theories of society that emphasize the struggle for existence and the role of competition in weeding out inferior members of the species. In particular, the phrase applies to policies that rely on these notions for their justification, and at the expense of the least well off in society. What are the economic presuppositions of Republicans: no taxes, no regulation, dismantle social services, privatize everything, “let God sort them out” as they might say. After all, the core assumptions of their economic policy are often based on metaphors (“invisible hands,” “all boats lift with the rising tide,” “taxes hurt growth”), yadda yadda yadda.
Obama’s remarks reflect a fundamental truism of electoral politics made famous by a sign hanging in Gov. Bill Clinton’s campaign war office in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid!” The same was true then, and now. Obama should keep the gloves off and keep pummeling the message home. America cannot settle for Mitt Romney and his tired and “time-tested-to-their-discredit” economic views. America is increasingly the land of prosperity for some; it needs to live up to its own self-image as a place where prosperity is possible for all.