NEW YORK – The Aug. 5 edition of The Economist caricatured the U.S. president as mimicking Japan’s “absentee” Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who seems content to “lead from behind the crowd” and who is at a loss about what to do to end Japan’s political and economic paralysis, even as corporations and ordinary people at the grassroots level seem dedicated to reviving the economy and employment in Japan.
In Washington, meanwhile, President Barack Obama seems to have all but turned over his governing responsibility to Republicans controlled by the anti- government and anti-democratic tea party.
In 2008, Americans voted in Obama to reject the Republican-led attack against middle-class and working Americans. Criticizing President George W. Bush and Republicans for dismantling democratic America, Warren Buffett, one of the richest Americans, quipped: “It is class warfare. The government is letting my class win hands down.”
Japanese voters, inspired by American voters, replaced the perennial and corrupt conservative rule with the Democratic Party of Japan. It was a bloodless civic revolution in the summer of 2009. Once in power, though, DPJ leaders went missing from their governing responsibility as they emulated Obama’s “NATO governing style”- no action, talk only.
President Obama has let the Republican/tea party alliance deceive Americans into believing that America’s fundamental problems are government spending and budget deficits. Obama has let Republican/tea party ideologues claim it would be unconstitutional for him to raise the debt limit without Congressional approval, thus forcing the president to cut government spending drastically and gut America’s democratic legacy of the New Deal regime.
In the medieval era, quacks bled unsuspecting patients in the mistaken belief that excess blood caused ailments. Some patients became weaker and eventually died. Blood to our body is what government spending is to the body politic and the economy. When debt-ridden consumers are not spending because their incomes are not growing, and when private businesses are not expanding production capabilities or adding employees because they do not see any prospect of increasing sales of products and services, only government spending on education, health care, bridges, roads and public transportation gets the economy onto a job creation path.
This is particularly so when the super rich — the only beneficiaries of Republican/tea party policies — invest in speculative money games instead of in ways to create jobs.
The Republican/tea party’s fear of budget deficits and government spending is a cover for returning America to the “Gilded Age” of the 19th century when government existed to help big business and the super rich. This folly ushered in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Many Japanese have puzzled over President Obama’s repeated capitulations to the Republican/tea party debt-limit blackmail. No other nation has put up with such foolishness. In fact, Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law (annual budgets passed by Congress) shall not be questioned.”
Obama should have never been hamstrung by this blackmail. The debt limit was a boogeyman that President Woodrow Wilson and Congress concocted to placate American taxpayers fearful of the debts the U.S. had accrued to finance World War I. Setting a debt limit gave the illusion of limiting government debt.
From spring to summer this year, President Obama’s capitulation to Republican/tea party brinkmanship has destroyed the anemic economic recovery and rattled world financial markets. He has tarnished the image of America’s political and economic leadership.
To re-establish strong leadership and to revive the economy, President Obama, a constitutional scholar, must free himself from debt-limit blackmail and embark instead on vigorous investment in education, roads, bridges and “green manufacturing.”
Yoshi Tsurumi is professor of international business, Baruch College, the City University of New York.
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