KETZENBERGER: Americans prefer shiny objects to substance

June 11, 2011

John KetzenbergerWe Americans seem to have the attention span of gnats.

For those of you still with me after 10 words, let’s take a look at the implications of our in-the-momentness through the lens of politics. If we, collectively, took a longer view:

• Mitch Daniels would be a presidential candidate.

• Job creation would be the top issue for all policymakers.

• Those who laid-low the economy through illegal acts would be cowering in fear of prosecution.

• We’d realize the United States cannot conduct wars, police global terrorism and protect entitlements while cutting taxes and limiting the number of entities that pay them.

Are you still with me? Good. Let’s go on a rant.

It’s sheer craziness that anyone gives a darn about the governor’s marital history. That it clearly was a major factor in Daniels’ decision against a run for president is testament to how little collective focus we have.

Who wants to answer a settled question that’s really nobody’s business over and over like it matters? Daniels’ marital history has no bearing on his ability to steer the country and reveals no damning character flaws. Who can blame him for not wanting to be laid bare over such a non-issue?

It’s no wonder so few people of substance care to mount a run for the nation’s highest office.

Speaking of jobs, we don’t have enough. Last month, the nation added 54,000 jobs, a pathetic figure this far into the “recovery” from recession. It’s time to break out those vintage mid-1990s T-shirts with “It’s the economy, stupid” on them.

The implication, of course, is focus and it should be on job creation. Rather than worrying what people do in their bedrooms, lawmakers should do all they can to encourage those in boardrooms to restart the economy by creating jobs.

Do you really think the people at Honda who will begin interviews soon for 1,000 new workers in Greensburg think much about a candidate’s marital status or sexual orientation?

Since those new jobs represent just 1 percent of the 100,000 manufacturing jobs lost to the recession, let’s agree to spend nearly all our time thinking of ways to foster job growth.

And what about all those Americans who put their own profit ahead of the nation’s interest? Selfish is one thing, criminal another, yet neither seems to matter to the masses.

Instead of vilifying or prosecuting those who gamed the financial system, we watch them operate in a virtual monopoly and divide record bonus pools propped up by taxpayers’ dollars. This while automakers make good on government loans and learn to compete in a fractured market with the aim of creating middle-class jobs.

It’s no surprise, really, that people have so little faith in a government that consistently appears to favor the rich and powerful. Just three Americans in 10 think Congress is doing a good job, according to an average of five polls tracked by Real Clear Politics.

What? We think we can eat our cake and have it, too? Apparently that is so, because Americans are still conflicted about the massive debt the nation has racked up to pay for wars and entitlements while the share of our income going to pay taxes is at the lowest level in 60 years.

Make no mistake: This is not a call to raise taxes, but it would be nice if we could consider the implications of our current course and make rational decisions to live more within our means.

And this brings us back to Daniels, who is finishing a book on this very subject. Insiders say it will define what Daniels has called this generation’s “Red Menace” and will prescribe solutions that aren’t popular.

It’s ridiculous to think that a book with hundreds of pages and big ideas will garner attention in a time when people take their information in bite-size chunks. But we really need it to be a best-seller.•


Ketzenberger is president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a not-for-profit dedicated to nonpartisan research into the state’s tax policies and budget practices. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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