What Gay Marriage Can Teach Us About Economic Recovery

by SAM SMITH

The excitement over Obama’s acceptance of gay marriage, albeit on a state by state basis, illustrates two often overlooked political points:

•   The lesser of two evils occasionally does something right, which, in fact, is what defines his lesserdom.

•  Just because the person you voted for won the White House doesn’t mean you can’t keep pressing your causes, a point ignored by most liberals during the Obama and Clinton years, thus aiding these administrations’ drift to the right on issues such as social welfare, war and civil liberties.

Rather than being treated as a unique event, the gay marriage advance could better be used as a model for liberal and progressive behavior in the coming months. Obama has no programs of his own other than to win reelection, which is one of the reasons he is not doing better against Romney in the polls. It would be a favor to shove him towards policies which he presently rejects out of cowardice or indifference, by demonstrating their power, popularity and potential.

The possibilities are numerous. There is majority support for a large range of policies that Obama is terrified of touching, many of which he hasn’t even started “evolving” on.

But the ones that could make the biggest difference in the least amount of time would be those dealing with the economic crisis. For example, Obama could:

·  Finally come up with a meaningful program to help troubled homeowners, such as a reverse mortgage system under which the government bought back over time a portion of troubled mortgages or simply bought a share of the equity in financially endangered homes at current values. Remember: we are in a recession or depression and the
values of homes dramatically reflect it. Thus chances are good that a government program of this sort could actually make money in ten or twenty years.

·   Put a limit on credit card interest rates based on the single digit levels of the 1980s. There is no justification for the current credit card usury.

But the one that could be a real swinger in this election would be a program that blends America’s sense of patriotism with its need for public works and economic stimulation.

Right now, the employment situation of veterans is appalling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports:

“The unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 — a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans — was 12.1 percent in 2011. The jobless rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent. . . Young male veterans (those ages 18 to 24) who served during Gulf War era II had an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent in 2011, higher than that of young male nonveterans (17.6 percent).”

And what are we doing for these vets? Hardly anything. Compare that with what we did for veterans after World War II, programs which also helped the whole country make the transition to a peacetime econmy – including major aid for home loans and education. The present veterans’ policy is pathetic, almost – one might say out on the stump – verging on the anti-patriotic.

What if we had, instead, a Veterans Works Project, a program in which money now being used futilely in Afghanistan is put to work on domestic public works projects staffed primarily by veterans?

Suddenly the political game changes. Instead of Obama defending socialism, as the Republicans would have use believe, the policy becomes a patriotic cause.

And the interesting thing is that Obama could get support from, of all places, the defense industry. The end of war means less defense contracts. What if many of these contracts were shifted to domestic public works programs?

As a final touch, once the program got going, Americorps – which currently has 85,000 volunteers a year – could be expanded to include veterans on a part or full  salary basis.

Our post WWII efforts were not the only time that economics has been blended with patriotism. Eisenhower boosted the massive interstate highway program in the 1950s on the grounds that it was necessary for national defence. If America were ever invaded, we needed good roads to get the Army where it needed to be.  He had come by the idea originally as a participant in a transcontinental motor convoy staged by the Army in 1919 to point out the need for better highways.

Thus,  a  Veterans Works Project would have at least three good precedents.

And while we’re talking about precedents, let us not forget the works programs of the New Deal which make current stimulus efforts look absurdly puny.  As Wikipedia recounts

“The Works Progress Administration  employed 8.5 million people in its seven-year history, working on 1.4 million projects, including the building or repair of 103 golf courses, 1,000 airports, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,900 schools, 8,192 parks, 12,800 playgrounds, 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, and 651,087 miles of highways and roads.”

And the patriotic angle was not ignored, as the Art Story notes:

“Several U.S. politicians had originally envisioned a fusing of art and patriotic American values. This inspired President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to begin the Works Progress Administration in the spring of 1935, and its subprogram, the Federal Art Project, several months later. The FAP was designed to both supplement artists’ incomes and, more importantly, fund patriotic art projects in an effort to rally dispirited American citizens.”  

It is essential for progressives and liberals to rediscover their former role as leaders in economic decency and equity. And helping veterans would be is not only a necessity in its own right – it would be a politically smart way to start a much broader economic revival. After all, it’s worked before and it could work again.

Sam Smith edits the Progressive Review. He is the author of The Great American Repair Manual.

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