Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reading the 2009 Election Tea Leaves

The usual Washington talking heads and spin doctors have had a field day over the last 48 hours chiming in on what this past Tuesday's election results really mean. Were the governor losses in New Jersey and Virginia a voter rebuke of the policies of the Obama administration and/or the Democratically-controlled Congress? Or on the other side of the political spectrum, was the defeat of the Conservative Party candidate in New York State's 23rd congressional district, supported by conservative mavericks Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, by a Democrat resulting in the loss of a Republican seat for the first time in a century a shot across the bow for the ideologically split Republican Party? I would contend that the results of these three elections do not mark a trend in either political direction but rather a reflection of the deepening disconnect felt by the American mainstream electorate over the continuing partisan gridlock in Washington and state capitols across this country, and the failure of governing bodies to address more pressing domestic issues like persistent unemployment/lack of jobs and health care reform. Frankly, many Americans, especially a growing Independent block, are becoming increasingly disillusioned with both parties and unless there is a genuine recognition of the plight and frustrations of a majority middle class soon the 2010 midterm elections (and beyond) could result in an irreversible "vote all the bums out" mentality.

Nowhere is this disconnect more evident than in the state of the economy (a factor, by the way, reinforced in numerous election exit polls). Despite the steady stream of "improving" economic indicators released by the government and reported by the media--admittedly, in many sectors like housing and auto manufacturing artificially inflated by government stimulus efforts--the unemployment situation in this country and unavailability of good-paying jobs remains a very serious crisis. Wherever you read, jobs are still being slashed in both the public and private sector and no new jobs are being created. The stock market has shown signs of life in recent months with companies reporting profits but largely because they continue to cut to the bone on expenses and reduce payrolls, not because of a growing demand for their products and services. Despite the government's urging, businesses note in independent survey after independent survey that they are still extremely cautious about hiring/rehiring staff in the present environment. Unemployment numbers have dropped in many areas of the country not because new jobs are being created but because of the antiquated statistical methodologies used by government agencies to report the unemployment numbers where many long-term unemployed have given up searching for non-existent jobs while many others who need full-time jobs are forced to take part-time jobs at a fraction of their previous pay. Younger voters (18-29) who came out strongly for President Obama in 2008 in Virginia, for example, comprised only about 10 percent of the vote in 2009. Why? Well, so many in this demographic are unemployed or underemployed and are more concerned about paying for everyday living expenses and paying off their huge public/private student loans now that their payment deferral periods have passed. Notably, a Wall Street Journal story reported recently that less than 50 percent of this age group that are able to work even have a job commensurate with their college educations. At the other demographic end, many experienced and talented workers over 55 downsized due to this economy cannot find suitable, good-paying replacement jobs because of not-so-subtle age discrimination. Many financially able to do so are taking early retirement while others less financially fortunate are trying to hang on until they can take early retirement at 62, which is creating its own problem placing even more pressure on an already distressed Social Security system and the coming tsunami of Baby Boomer retirements.

And a few words here about the ongoing partisan debate over health care reform. While Washington fiddles, the ("burning") obvious problems of affordability, increased costs, the plight of the uninsured and under insured, etc., continue unabated. Health care premiums continue to rise and more employers are shifting a greater percentage payment burden to employees who already see their wages frozen or hours cut by the recession. People continued to be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, see costs reaching or surpassing maximum policy caps or are just rolling the dice opting for no insurance out of necessity. Recent reports indicate that passage of a true health reform package could be delayed into 2010, an election year. If this scenario materializes, health care reform will probably be even further delayed (if it's ever enacted at all) because of the traditional nervousness of legislators wary to vote on anything the least bit controversial in an election year.

How do you read this year's election tea leaves? One would like to be optimistic--it's the American way--but for too many during these days the realism trump card rules. Huge numbers of people need help and jobs not political posturing. The sooner all the politicians and governmental officials finally realize this, the better for them but, more importantly, the better for this country.

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