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Asheville Citizen-Times

How a Democrat can win in a red state

Charles Kelly OPINION • September 3, 2010

The Republican-lite Democratic Leadership Council would never support an old school Democrat in a red state, but if he's willing to conduct an honest campaign, he just might win on his own in November. It's been so long since Democrats frankly admitted the mistakes of their own party, it's no wonder the public has lost confidence in them.

Think of the public and media attention a candidate would get if he actually told the truth about how President Clinton adopted the Republican free-market globalization agenda and got NAFTA passed. Sure, Clinton is a lovable rogue who did a lot of good things for our country, but making working Americans compete with people making one-tenth as much wasn't one of them. Keeping wages stagnant by controlling the labor market has been the go-to strategy of investors throughout history, and expanding the labor supply to include the whole world is corporate America's ultimate cure for rising wages.

Of course, in his favor, Clinton also raised taxes on the top 1.2% of Americans. Higher tax revenues — coupled with rising corporate profits and the skyrocketing stock market — eventually reduced the deficit to a net surplus. However, it was done on the backs of those who lost their jobs or saw their wages stagnate, while globalization's real winners became millionaires.

Next, the candidate should point out that President Obama is one of our brightest presidents with immense potential, but he's economically inexperienced and making the same mistakes Clinton made. He's listening to the same Wall Street crowd that convinced Clinton to turn the Democrat party into a Republican-lite party: Robert Rubin, ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs and booster of free market globalization; Larry Summers, outspoken proponent of financial deregulation; and Timothy Geithner, Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson, leading advocates for bailing out banks and investment companies after they almost destroyed our economic system. (Or, has it been saved yet?)

Whether or not these economic geniuses are deliberately dishonest or simply blinded by their trickle-down biases is irrelevant. What's important is that their policy recommendations always seem to benefit the rich and powerful first, with only the promise of later benefits cascading down on the common folk. Problem is, after the rich and powerful have deposited their checks, something unforeseen always seems to get into the way of trickle-down, and those lower on the totem pole are left worse off than they were before.

Last, the candidate should take the time to educate the public about how we got out of the Great Depression, instead of compromising with the Republican fiction that it was low taxes on the wealthy, and freedom from government involvement and regulations. It also wasn't WWII that got us out of the depression.

Always missing in the conservative revision of history is exactly how producing millions of airplanes, shipping vessels, submarines, jeeps, and tanks — and sending them overseas to blow up, and be blown up by, other nations' airplanes, submarines, etc. — was good for our economy. That's not even considering the thousands of Americans who lost their lives in the process.

Conservatives seem especially forgetful about the period's economic realities. In the first three years of the war, government raised taxes, mostly on the wealthy, and deficit-spent seven times the amount it spent during the entire eight years of the New Deal, which had been ruinously underfunded. Millions of unemployed Americans went into the armed forces, and more millions into the military industry and its support businesses. Result: Customers in this country had money, investors come out of the woodwork to get it, the economy grew like crazy, and we got out of the Great Depression in a big way.

Of course — given our red states' cherished devotion to tax breaks for the wealthy and distaste for government programs that benefit mostly middle and low-income Americans—any candidate who would dare to loudly state obvious truths would be viciously attacked from all sides. But only at first. With increased attention to the issues that really matter, and in an emperor-has-no-clothes moment, even a thoroughly misinformed red state voter may suddenly understand what good government is all about.

Charles M. Kelly, Ph.D., is a retired management consultant living in Burnsville, and is author of The Destructive Achiever; power and ethics in the American corporation, and Farewell Fantasyland; time for political and economic reality. He can be reached at