Cook: The country was in trouble, and Obama ...

  • Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, September 16, 2012 8:03 p.m.

Glancing through the day's mail, my husband and I thought President Obama was personally courting my vote.
Two mailers in the pile were addressed to me. They didn't even say "Or Current Resident."
"Leadership isn't about blaming others," read one, with a large photo of the president pointing outward, in my direction.
The other mailer posed a question. "Where did President Obama's $50 billion GM taxpayer bailout create jobs?" Again, there was a photo of Obama, this time pictured near a white guy wearing a yellow safety helmet - symbolic, I suppose, of the American worker.
The two mailers were headed for the trash - I don't base my votes on junk mail - until I looked more closely. These were anti-Obama pieces. Of course. Read the big print.
One said Obama blamed others for the all the nation's problems, rather than deal with them as an effective leader himself. The other said bailout beneficiary GM is spending $1 billion a year in China while making record profits and paying no income tax at home.
More on that later.
And so it will go for the next six weeks. Since most voters have made up their minds about the presidential race, the campaigns are trying to reach the few remaining fence-sitters. Unaffiliated voters like me are prime targets, but I'm skeptical of political messages on slick flyers.
These particular ones came from the American Future Fund, a group advocating "conservative and free market ideals," according to its website.
But my first impression of the fund's political mailers reminded me of something Stephen Colbert said recently. How people feel about the presidential race may be a matter of inflection.
Frown: Look what Obama has done: stimulus, Obamacare, bailout for the auto industry.
Smile: Look what Obama has done: stimulus, Obamacare, bailout for the auto industry.
Sometimes I think the parties have divided along genetic lines. Some of us are wired to be conservative, no matter who the candidates are. And some of us are wired to be liberal.
You used to find conservatives and liberals in both parties, but recent years have been tumultuous, and this is the way things have shaken out.
Republicans did a masterful job of making "liberal" a negative word. But they have also redefined "conservative" - maybe also a matter of inflection. "Conservative" means traditional and resistant to change, but the tea party movement helped put a sharper edge on it, a by-any-means-necessary edge.
And among the traditions conservatives harken back to is an era of less government and lower taxes - even though, as one book puts it, "for most Americans, federal taxes have not risen over the past couple of decades."
I'm quoting David Wessel's book, "Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget," which I recommend. Wessel is the economics editor at the Wall Street Journal, a conservative source however you define the word. He explains the dynamics of the federal budget in a clear, easy-to-follow way that helps put the deficit and taxes in perspective. And he doesn't lobby for either party.
I don't think conservatives are going to rob Granny of her Social Security or let poor children starve so millionaires can stockpile more money. I also don't believe liberals want to rob the rich so lazy people won't have to work.
But extreme mischaracterizations like those help drive the current political friction, with each side wanting to believe the worst about the other so we can reject its suggestions in toto rather than admit there could be a middle ground.
Which is too bad because that's where most of us are, in that wide middle ground, wondering how things got to this point.
The degrees of difference within the parties are this: diehard ideologues who believe compromise means caving in, and pragmatists who are willing to give on some points in order to reach their ultimate goal.
We need more pragmatists.
Anyway, those mailers piqued my interest, especially the one about GM and China.
As it turns out, GM sold 2.5 million cars in China in 2011, according to an article in BusinessWeek. The American Future Fund may believe all those cars should have been made in America and shipped to China instead. Let's hope Toyota doesn't adopt that approach and close its six factories in the United States.
As for GM's not paying income taxes, that was part of the bailout deal, to offset the $18 billion the company lost, pre-bankruptcy. Ordinary folks don't get tax breaks like that, and we have a hard time accepting the justification.
The bailout was not perfect, but it saved more than 1 million U.S. auto industry jobs. I'll stick my neck out and say that's a good thing.
You could even call it leadership, depending on your inflection.

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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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