New England editorial roundup
Rutland (Vt.) Herald, June 15, 2012
The unsettling historical parallel that is increasingly apt likens the present state of global paralysis and economic depression with the early years of the Great Depression.
It is an unsettling parallel because the floundering leadership in Europe of the 1930s and the economic misery that were the result led to extremism of the worst sort. In our historical memory, we may view Nazism as an aberration of extreme evil, but maybe it's not as aberrant as we think. It wasn't so long ago that Europeans were establishing concentration camps and carrying out genocide in the former Yugoslavia. Extremism happens when the center does not hold.
The center has been crumbling in Greece. Parliamentary elections this weekend may spell the doom of Greece's participation in the European Union with unforeseeable consequences, not just for the Greek people, but for the European economy. And if the European economy falters, the U.S. economy will also suffer.
Looking back on the early '30s, we may wish we could shake the complacent leaders of Germany, Britain and France, urging them to get their act together in order to avert unimaginable horror. But they didn't get their act together. All three nations, having passed through the horror of World War I, were still in the grip of bitter resentments and abject denial. In Italy the fascist Mussolini offered up an extreme alternative, and in 1933 the German government named Hitler chancellor.
People reach for an extreme alternative when all sensible alternatives have failed. In Greece and Spain, unemployment has created a new Great Depression. The extreme parties are likely to dominate the elections in Greece, and polarization is likely to increase. We shouldn't forget that in the late 1940s Greece experienced a vicious and murderous civil war.
Commonsense solutions exist for our economic challenges, but vested interests also exist. In the United States, if Florida or Arizona suffer excessively because of the bursting of a housing bubble, the system as a whole bolsters them and government benefits, provided by all 50 states, flow to those who suffer. In the European Union, Greece and Spain are suffering, but there is no federal system that automatically cushions their fall. Germans resent bailing out spendthrift Greeks and have imposed a regime of austerity that now threatens to bring down the entire European Union.
The United States cannot assume superior airs in relation to Europe. The vested interests who maintain a paralyzing hold on Congress refuse to allow the government to take commonsense steps to resolve persistent economic and fiscal problems. The failure of our leaders to take constructive action places them in the ranks of the floundering leaders of the early 1930s, clinging to outdated theories as real people suffer. Herbert Hoover, meet Mitt Romney.
The niceties of journalism encourage journalists to take what is called a balanced view, assigning equal blame to both sides for refusing to cooperate. Increasingly, however, writers from the right and left are coming to the conclusion that the balanced view is not accurate, that the Republican Party has been captured by an extreme radical wing, fueled by billionaires' money and dedicated to the dismantling of the American welfare state. It is their intent to use Congress as a weapon of obstruction, as it was used in the 1950s to obstruct racial progress. It is their intent to destroy the Obama administration.
Obama is no nonpartisan angel. He is a political battler, but he has been continually undermined by actually trying to work with Republicans.
Thus, the United States has its own form of political stasis. We can only hope that we do not require a deepening disaster to recognize the need to abandon self-interest for the common good, to lay down the weapons of partisanship for the kind of pragmatic problem-solving action that can address the pressing demands of struggling economies. The vote in Greece could be portentous.
The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), June 14, 2012
When President Barack Obama said at a press conference that "the private sector is doing fine," he didn't mean exactly what he said, of course.
At least that's what he said later on in the day when he tried to walk back his comments. And that's what top adviser David Axelrod asserted on TV on Sunday morning.
But the president said what he said. Just as his predecessor, George W. Bush, stepped out of a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier festooned with a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" when the war in Iraq was anything but over. The president's political team tried to nuance the message, but those two words lived on.
It's a helpful exercise when examining one's feelings about a sudden political firestorm to imagine what you'd think if a candidate from the other party had done or said something similar.
Democrats who support Obama may well wish to think of his Friday statement as no big deal, and to dismiss those who point to it as the worst kind of partisans.
Perhaps another example would prove illustrative: Four years ago, as the nation's fiscal house teetered on the edge of a cliff, then-presidential candidate John McCain asserted: "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." It showed a candidate completely out of touch with reality. And it haunted him.
While no one would rationally suggest that McCain would have won in 2008 if he hadn't made that statement, few would wave it away as completely insignificant. When Mitt Romney next says something that grabs hold of the day's news cycle -- and it will happen -- it might be helpful to wonder how his words would have sounded spoken by someone from the opposition party. A gaffe on the other foot can sure look different.