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The Great Marginalization

Anti-big government activist Al Gore stood alongside NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week to deliver a joint announcement of a green initiative—the painting of rooftops white, which makes them absorb less heat and use less energy to cool inside. “I’m proud to endorse the leadership and the actions Mayor Bloomberg has taken,” said Gore, in what was interpreted as a tacit endorsement of Bloomberg’s mayoral re-election campaign, now approaching $100 million in cost– a stomping shoe-in.  “White is the new green,” said Bloomberg who, together with Gore, applauded the city’s new volunteer corps set to brush the first 100,00 square feet of roof top.

Wait a minute.  A volunteer corps?  Isn’t the U.S. mired in nearly 10 per cent unemployment?  Isn’t NYC in the same predicament? Aren’t there, in fact, 1.5 million New Yorker City residents in official poverty, with more expected when 2009 is tallied?   What’s going to happen to all those people?  Volunteer?  Turn to interning? What happened to green-get-a-salary-take-care-of-your-family  jobs?

It takes Big Government to create green jobs, real jobs… employment desperately needed right now, not next month, by  millions and millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans.    Not just green jobs but essential ones like keeping teachers teaching, schools maintained, health and dental clinics maintained, food inspected, bridges kept safe.. just look around and imagine all the work that needs to be done.  A visit to any urban public school system would convince anyone of terrible staff and equipment shortages.  School librarians are an endangered species in Bloomberg’s New York.  It is an obvious proposition that America’s fate is linked to mass job creation without delay and that that task lies with government.  No one else.

This country, however, is headed in the opposite direction. Thus far in 2009 there has been a 17 percent decline in government jobs in the U.S.  Expect more.  Like his predecessors – Reagan, Clinton and Bush – Obama talks the talk of free market and leaves job growth to the private sector.  I am starting to think he sincerely believes it.  What a huge mistake.
Private payrolls have been declining for a decade and there is absolutely nothing out there that indicates a change in that trend.  Why should it?   Productivity is soaring– at a 6.6 per cent annual rate last quarter, with a jump of that magnitude expected for the fourth quarter.  That’s fewer workers making more goods.  Slow down, lose your job.  Correspondingly, profits are big— for non-financial companies profit was up 19.3 percent in the first quarter – those are Madoff-like returns -and grew in the second quarter as well—“a testament to the benefits of corporate cost-cutting and productivity gains.  Nonfinancial companies are emerging from this recession with margins much higher than at the end of the last recession… [F]urther gains in profits are a sure bet,” cooed Business Week.   Those same companies had a $156 billion surplus in cash flow in thr second quarter —the second highest surplus on record.   A fact not unnoticed by America’s bondholders, always in search of the biggest and best yields.  Corporate bond issuance averaged $488 billion in the first half of 2009, more than triple the previous six months.  For those folks, the recession is indeed over.  Big Government came to their rescue, propping up the financial institutions and big insurers who in turn kept those corporations fluid.

None of this, however, has anything to do with employing Americans.  Quite the opposite: the accumulation of cash by US companies and their big profits this year are a result of laying off — not laying on — the workforce.  And if Barack Obama wants to make good on his pledge to employ three million Americans he’ll only get the job done by way of Big Government job programs.  There is no other way.  By the way, the West Wing might have suggested that it builds an awfully loyal constituency– getting people to work, bills paid to local businesses, town taxes paid, etc.

Which brings us back to Al Gore, dutifully identifying those nasty dark roofs needing fresh white paint last week.   You see, Al’s one of the reasons Obama can’t do the Big Government hiring so desperately needed today. It was Al’s duty 15 years ago, in the mid-1990s, as deputy dog to Bill Clinton, to do away with Big Government.  Sure, Reagan had gotten the ball rolling, Dick Morris helped keep that ball in the White House, helping show Clinton that the road to victory was to out GOP the GOP … and that meant to contain Big Government.   Gore drew the assignment to continue the march against Big Government and  no one ever recalls hearing him complain about it.Maybe it’s like Big Weather to him.

So it was that on March 4, 1996, Vice President Al Gore appeared before the National Partnership for Reinventing Government to announce the end of Big Government.  “Indeed, we have reduced the size of the federal work force by more than 200,000 positions in the last three years.  Because of our efforts … the government work force as a percentage of civilian work force is now smaller than it has been since 1933.”

Two generations of Big Government bad-mouthing Big Government – Reagan, Clinton, Bush – and watching the Great Marginalization  of working America grow by the tens of millions.. with no plan to stop it, or even to slow it down.  Just as Obama needed to inject Big Government into the debate… for a public option – it was too late, too alien, too radical, but mostly too much government.  Too bad for Obama because without Big Government he’s stuck in that Great Marginalization… a place with no future, especially if you’re black or Hispanic.  Save one black president.
Good old Al Gore’s gonna get those rooftops white, no matter.

CARL GINSBURG is a tv producer and journalist based in New York. He can be reached at carlginsburg@gmail.com