By Dennis B. Roddy
From all indications the Pennsylvania senate election boils down to a choice between Nancy Pelosi's poodle and Fu Man Toomey.
One side depicts Joe Sestak as a free-spending liberal. Sometime around 1988 liberalism -- think FDR and Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson -- was saturation bombed to the point that the very people that reap its legacy -- think social security and Medicare -- will stand in line for their benefits while denouncing the authors of their bounty.
The other side literally clangs a gong, accusing Toomey of some manner of economic secret agentry. Still another spot employs a fortune cookie with a slip of paper saying "Pat Toomey: he's not for you."
How hypocritical is that? How racist is that? It is as if the 2010 election has devolved into a schoolyard fight over whose friends are dorkier. And we're not talking about a fight between two stellar athletes here. This is redolent of one of those slapfests between two guys the Amish kids used to beat up.
We might blame Arlen Specter for this. We did for everything else, hence the need now to decide that, between two candidates, which leper has the most fingers. We might blame an electoral system that is now possessed of all the probity and square dealing of a cigarette commercial. We might even blame the good weather than has forced television to compete with out-of-doors for the attention of an electorate that finds mowing the lawn more edifying than the political debate.
God knows, we would never venture to blame the candidates for authorizing the rubbish being tossed about with their brand on the soiled wrappers.
Let us dispense with each side's argument.
Toomey's side says that Joe Sestak has voted for the "Wall Street bailout" and a stimulus package that did not create jobs and, yes, that he has voted with Nancy Pelosi "100 percent of the time."
The Wall Street bailout, such as it was, was known as the Troubled Asset Recovery Program and I was in the building when it was passed the senate at the request of a raving neo-Marxist named George W. Bush. Nobody was smiling at the time. Voting for it along with the usual Democratic suspects were Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., John Thune, an arch conservative from the Dakotas, and John Kyl, best described as a Shiite Republican from Arizona.
The opposition was equally ecumenical. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina conservative and Bernard Sanders a self-declared socialist from Vermont.
We can say what we will about the effectiveness of the bailout, and the subsequent stimulus. Precisely what would have happened if more of the financial houses along Wall Street had fallen is hard to say. Possibly that mystical agent of inerrancy that libertarians call the "free market" -- think Bakunin with a checkbook -- would have righted things. Possibly you would be reading this from your new home which could very well have been an old piano box somewhere behind an abandoned shopping mall. The point is that congress was faced with deciding on its best guess and, because the House of Representatives has been dysfunctional for the past 30 years, it remained for the Senate to step up.
Or, as that disposed of old senator Arlen Specter put it: "Listen -- we're elected to solve problems. We're going to dig in and get it done one way or the other. We cannot walk away from this. If we walk away from it totally and the market sees nothing in sight, the consequences are going to be cataclysmic."
The problem with cataclysms that are prevented is that voters are then asked to rely on the evidence of things not seen. It's a hard case to prove, as it is with the other Sestak vote that is such a favorite of the right wing: the Obama stimulus package.
The federal government budgeted about $789 billion in monies directed primarily to state governments. The idea is purely Keynesian economics: shoot money into the economy like adrenalin to keep it from stalling. It is a tactic, not a long-term strategy, and this much was acknowledged not only by Keynes but by Obama as well. The idea here was that jobs were falling at a dizzying rate as investors retreated from the imploding economy, and imaginary wealth -- that stuff of investor confidence -- evaporated as investment houses deflated. Some economists did the calculus and declared that $1 trillion would more likely do the trick. From the get-go, everyone agreed this was going to add inches to the national debt waistline; the point was that without it, the recession would fall into outright depression.
Today the national debt is higher, unemployment is at 10 percent and the jobs lost in the recession have not all returned. That is the mantra of the doubters. Here's the flip side: today the national debt is still not increased by the percentages it did under Reagan, job loss has stopped and new jobs are -- slowly -- coming back and the unemployment rate is not 25 percent. Nobody writes headlines when a plane lands safely.
For this vote, Joe Sestak is not only ridiculed, but he is vilified for having agreed with those economists who thought $1 trillion was a more realistic number to jolt things awake. We can debate those numbers, yes. But anyone with a memory longer than 15 minutes will remember that nobody was urging that nothing be done. And doing nothing would precisely match the mantra of the free marketeers.
Then there is Sestak's campaign. Complicated votes are even more complicated to explain, especially when they involve mathematics and economics. So he's China baiting and when he's not China-baiting he's banker baiting. Pat Toomey, you see, worked on Wall Street, which is both a street in New York and, from current indications, the newest circle in Hell.
Toomey worked in investment houses and invested money, apparently with enough success to get out 20 years ago thanking the Almighty for both the money and the escape. But the glamor didn't stop there. He promptly moved to Allentown and opened restaurants. Only in the world of politics can this evoke some fantasy of a man as half Jay Gatsby and half Bernard Madoff.
Let's face it: in the 1980s and 1990s everybody lost sight of what creates wealth. The boom market of the Clinton years consisted in large measure of people pushing the same supply of money around into different piles then declaring it fresh gold as if a computer terminal were the Philosopher's Stone. Counting the same money twice, or declaring something of value when it was not was not an ideological function. It was how the market functioned and it was also the reason we had, ultimately, to either let it crash and rebuild or prop it up and get the stone mason's to work on a new foundation.
Pat Toomey did not invent this system nor did he stay long enough to appreciably add or detract from it. What he did was move to Allentown and open small businesses.
Note, please, that he did not move to Shanghai. This bears noting because the current round of Sestak and Democratic ads suggest that the man has taken a junk to the Orient and lit the opium pipe of globalism. I am old enough to savor the irony here, remembering a time Republicans attacked Democrats as agents of Mao for merely suggesting we deal with the large China just off the shores of Taiwan which, for reasons of geopolitics, we insisted was the actual China.
Now, because most of our unnecessary plastic objects are imported from China, Americans have noticed companies outsourcing the jobs we once did here. This, too, is an issue too complicated to sort through in 30 seconds so it has been cue the gong, put up some of those bamboo graphics and speak of how Pat Toomey should run for senate in China. If someone is supposed to get tough on the Chinese over trade issues it would more likely be the same man whose White House was regrettably tepid when imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Chinese trade deals, including the continual winking at their currency manipulation, has been a bipartisan undertaking and whether or not Pat Toomey is a senator will have no measurable effect on the matter. For that we need a trade representative with presidential marching orders.
Campaigns have become Kabuki theater -- highly stylized dances by symbolic characters who, though they may entertain, would be unqualified to push a wheelbarrow. This is not a good thing. The actual task of governing might not be pushing a barrow, but it is knowing when to lift, where to point and, more importantly, when to stop, lest we spill a load, make a mess and smell up the joint.
There is a place for ideology and it should be right alongside practicality. For now, at least on my television, I get no more insight into politics from the senate commercials than I am made to understand World War II from reruns of "Hogan's Heroes."