The U.S. needs to shift to the right again

  • Wed Oct 27th, 2010 4:09pm

By Tom Hoban Realty Markets

When economists write the book about The Great Recession, they won’t have pictures of haggard men standing in long lines hoping to win a job or gaunt-faced families huddled in dusty enclaves that marked The Great Depression of the early 1930s. What they will have, though, is faces of stress and uncertainty that marked what we hope is the back end of it in late 2010.

All eyes are on this month’s elections — and rightly so. Individual voters have their motives for picking the candidate or issue they want to support. But the heading over this chapter of The Great Recession book will likely read “Restoring Balance” because the lesson learned from tilting our two-party system too far one way or the other is that when one party calls the shots it leaves about half of the country out of the discussion. Our system is designed to balance interests so that they must battle each other in debate in order to come to a finished product. Predictable and unable to overreact, government never wields too much power when it is balanced.

Hungry for leadership and on our economic heels in 2008, we grabbed for something that felt good. And it did. Unfortunately, hope, change and transformation were largely undefined by now-President Barack Obama and those who voted for him had different ideas about what that meant. Off doing what he thought it meant to him, President Obama squandered the greatest mandate any president has enjoyed in the modern era.

But that’s not the real issue. What really happened was that we took the debate out of Washington — again. Thankfully, our system is set up for that to last as long or as short as voters want.

Polling going into November suggests Americans are likely to push balance back into Washington — whether that’s their intent or not – and let policy develop the way our founding fathers and over 200 years of experience have showed us works best. That might be more important than anything else because getting policy out of Washington that everyone can buy into at some level and which is more investment- and business-friendly is going to be key to pulling us out of this long, painful recession.

Markets are likely to react well to an injection of something more middle to right, if it really comes this month. While many voters have ideas of how business, industry, government and all areas of our lives ought to run, right now it is the investor, the business owner and those who drive the engines of job creation that are the key to turning this economy around. These people often don’t write ranting letters to the editor or have voices that appear on the mainstream op-ed pages. They aren’t on TV all the time or part of our ordinary daily lives unless we reach out to find them. Most of the time, they join chambers of commerce, trade organizations or co-ops. Most of the time, they are very good people trying to run businesses and push their ideas through others who possess the time and inclination to speak on their behalf. But they have not been talked to very nicely the past two years and their agenda is just not being heard. It’s no wonder we remain in a recession.

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican who was elected early this year into the seat held for decades by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, pointed out the degree of imbalance in Washington today while speaking at an August political fundraiser in Bellevue for U.S. Senate candidate and former state senator Dino Rossi. In the time since he took office at the beginning of this year, Brown emphasized, the subject of jobs has been on the Senate agenda only nine days. “When I travel around the world, they aren’t talking about anything else but jobs, too. It’s about jobs everywhere but in Washington, D.C., right now…” he noted with some disgust.

We tried one way of doing things over the past two years. Some successes, some failures. But unemployment is still the big issue and our deficit is growing at such an accelerated rate that we feel dirty about what we are doing to our kids and grandkids. Those problems and unpredictable and sometimes harmful forms of hope, change and transformation have investors and capital still on the sidelines and the fuel they inject into the economic engine we all depend on is sitting idle with them, concerned about the dialogue, policy and ideas that dominate the group in charge in Washington today.

Perhaps this chapter will open with some change in leadership and signal some predictability and investor- or business-friendly policies that work, leading to private-sector expansion and, with it, job creation and debt reduction driven from reduced spending. Leave investors and industry’s interests out again and the title of this chapter will likely be “More of the Same.” That, very clearly, would make The Great Recession book a much longer read than it needs to be.

Tom Hoban is co-owner of Everett-based Coast group of commercial real estate companies. Contact him at tomhoban@coastmgt.com, 425-339-3638 or www.coastsvn.com.