The US mid-term elections on Tuesday are shaping up to be a referendum on President Barack Obama's administration. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich about demagoguery in US politics, economic inequality and the parallels between 2010 and 1929.Go read the whole article.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US goes to the polls on Tuesday for critical mid-term elections. It is a difficult time for the country -- you have said it is facing a "perfect storm." What do you mean by that?
Reich: First, we have got an unprecedented degree of concentrated income and wealth at the very top of our society. The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now makes more than the bottom 120 million. Secondly, courtesy of a grotesque opinion by the Supreme Court of the United States, we now have virtually unlimited money flowing from the rich and from corporations through secret devices that make it impossible to know who is contributing what to various campaigns and to advertising for and against various candidates. Such anonymous groups have spent more than $400 million on the latest election, according to estimates. And finally, we have a broad electorate still unemployed or in danger of being unemployed, still in danger of losing their homes or already having lost their homes, still experiencing a major drop in their savings or their net worth. This frustrated and anxious population is easy prey to demagogues who will blame others for their problems rather than explain what needs to be done.
Reich hammers home the basic facts which the TEA party and the Republicans refuse to see:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, it is no surprise that candidates opposing government spending appear likely to win many of the open Congressional seats.Reich points out the dangers of the hard veer to the right that is coming with this election:
Reich: This is one of the areas that are very easy to demagogue. By accusing government of being the enemy and promising people that if we simply shrink government they will be better, some politicians and ideologues are attempting to improve their own positions of power. They are misleading the voters. We know that when the private sector is unwilling or unable to spend and when consumers are under a huge debt load, government is the last remaining spender, at least in the short term. Long term deficits do have to be reduced, but unless we get the economy growing in the short term through government spending, we're all going to be experiencing a much longer and more painful socalled recovery. We need a bigger stimulus now.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In addition to the Great Depression, there was also a sharp increase in the amount of national rage, both with politicians and within the political debate. Could that happen again?
Reich: I think what we're seeing now in America is an outbreak of isolationism, nativism, and xenophobia. The Tea Party is against foreign trade. We are also seeing an outbreak of antiimmigrant sentiment across the country. The anger directed at China now is out of proportion to China's real effect on the American economy. China is not to blame for 15 million jobs being lost over the last two and a half years. My point is that we are already seeing the hallmarks of the politics of anger and resentment, which led in the 1930s to isolationism. That's very much what worries me.