Leadership is a highly regarded commodity and includes social influence where one person enlists the aid and support of others to accomplish a specific goal or agenda, and without adherents or devotees willing to follow without question, success at achieving the leader’s goal is nearly impossible. America has been a world leader for the past seventy years, but for the past two years under Republican rule, America relinquished its leadership position to Europe and became a devotee of austerity economics to follow the Eurozone into economic contraction and recession regardless the damage to America and its citizens.
For two years immediately following the Great Recession, President Obama showed true leadership and avoided following Europe’s lead in imposing austerity economics, and with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created jobs, grew the economy, and set the country on a course toward fiscal health. However, Republicans took control of the country’s purse-strings in 2011 and committed Washington to follow Europe’s austerity lead and their course began bearing fruit in the fourth quarter of 2012 when the economy’s growth slowed on the way to a new recession. Europe never recovered from the Great Recession, and is precariously close to full-blown depression that Republicans have convinced nearly all of Washington to follow with blatant disregard for the deleterious effects to the people, the economy, and nation’s well-being. It is a sad commentary for America that Republican leadership convinced Washington to blindly follow Europe’s lead with their infectious debt and deficit reduction agenda, but they succeeded driving a narrative that without cutting government, killing jobs, and contracting the economy, America was doomed.
The economic retardation and contraction aside, the effect on Americans is beginning to produce real results that Europeans have experienced for over two years with massive unemployment, shredded social safety nets, and rising debt that Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman labeled “Europe’s Second Depression,” and it is slated to last much longer than the first one. In fact, the current European recession has already gone on longer than the 2008 financial crisis. As was pointed out several times, austerity is toxic during a recession, and seeing the effects of prescribing poison to a sick patient, Republicans are increasing the dose to America and like Europe, austerity will cost American lives. It is noteworthy that Republicans are administering toxic economic policies to destroy the government by design, and if the people suffer and die, then as John Boehner is wont to say, “so be it,” because corporations, the oil industry, and Wall Street are thriving at Americans’ expense.
It is pointless to predict what is going to happen in America, or theorize on the effects of austerity during a tepid recovery, because the effects of the sequestration cuts are already creating economic havoc on middle class Americans and crushing the life out of the working poor mired in poverty. It is important to remember that the sequester’s cuts are a ten year crusade to decimate Americans, and the $85 billion in cuts the first year will increase to $112 billion each year for the remaining nine years that portends a dire situation for the people, jobs, and the economy over the next decade.
Thus far, federal employees are taking 22 furlough days without pay that equates to a 20% cut in pay, and those middle class Americans will stop buying cars, durable goods, and most likely lose their homes in order to afford food and shelter for their families. Besides the hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs lost during the past four years, school districts across America are shedding a hundred thousand more middle class teaching jobs as education takes a massive sequestration hit. In aviation, air traffic control towers at 149 executive and regional airports are being closed threatening air travel safety and eliminating the subsequent jobs servicing commercial airline traffic. Law enforcement and first responders, already at dangerously low levels, are taking another round of layoffs that not only threatens public safety, but takes living wage jobs out of the economy and pushes more Americans into anti-poverty assistance that has been ravaged before the sequester began just one month ago.
There are devastating cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and 600,000 mothers and their children face the next ten years without assistance that spells certain extreme poverty for the working poor and epidemic-levels of children and babies going without basic healthcare. The Head Start program that provides pre-school aged children with health and nutrition services are losing access to the program that was already stretched so thin that in many states a percentage of legal gambling revenue has been diverted to maintain a semblance of the program intact. In Tennessee, there is such a shortage of healthcare and Medicaid assistance for the extremely poor, that they reverted to a lottery-type system to apportion dwindling medical services to those fortunate enough to win an application for entrance into a healthcare program. It was just revealed this week that over 140,000 poverty-level elderly and disabled Americans lost access to housing assistance that gives them no option but homelessness or finding disappearing room in shelters. The list goes on and on, and instead of scrambling to stop the poverty-creating sequester cuts, Washington is seeking deeper austerity because although Republicans concede there is no immediate debt crisis, they created a future crisis in the form of “generational warfare” from the burdens of future debt on the next generation.
The next generation of Americans will find their burden is living in a country that watched an ill-advised, economically ignorant Europe tumble off the economic cliff and after two years of stimulus, job creation, and economic growth, changed course and embraced a ten-year austerity program that guarantees dire circumstances for all but the wealthiest Americans. Republicans bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for the economic quagmire Americans are, and will, suffer for the next ten years, but they have garnered willing accomplices in Washington who latched on to the European austerity model of debt and deficit reduction regardless the damage to the people and the economy. President Obama is powerless to stop the looming crisis, and is as infected with deficit fever as most Democrats who have little choice but to acquiesce to Republican demands for more austerity in the fleeting hopes of finding the elusive “grand bargain” of entitlement cuts, tax reform, corporate tax cuts, and no infrastructure, education, or safety net funding increases for the next decade.
America ceded world leadership in 2010 when firebaggers, HamWalds, Ed Schultz, and EmoProgs convinced Democrats to sit out the midterm elections and usher in teabaggers who gave Republicans cover to impose European austerity on Americans. As Republicans followed Europe’s austerity lead, Democrats jumped on the debt and deficit reduction bandwagon to pacify their constituents who fell for Republicans’ “debt crisis” and believed that the course of action to grow the economy, create jobs, and build a secure future was austerity that killed jobs, retarded the economy, and set a course that portends increased poverty, hungry and sick children, and an elderly population that will struggle to find housing, healthcare, and if they are fortunate, adequate nutrition. When the next generation looks back and wonders what happened to America they heard about from their grandparents, they will learn that the once powerful American economy fell victim to European-envy and instead of staying the course of economic recovery borne of investing in America, followed a sick and dying economic reality knowing full well that austerity during a recession or recovery resulted in dire economic contraction and more recession.
There is good news though, because every month there might be some part-time minimum wage jobs added, corporate profits will continue to soar, Wall Street will post record numbers, and for the next ten years, children will be hungry, seniors will be homeless, and the great American middle class will slip into oblivion. America’s best days are historical because instead of leadership and bold forward thinking, Republicans seized the initiative and led by following this country’s leading trading partner over an austerity cliff with willing assistance from debt and deficit reduction-mad Democrats who watched Europe fall into depression after recession and embraced the sentiment that “if you can’t beat em’ join em’,” and joined Republicans as they stopped leading and started following Europe over the economic cliff.