Election 2012: Hopeful Visions for the Future or ‘Food Fight’?

By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

In the heady days surrounding the 2008 election, there was a national mood of pride and hope. The largely positive official campaigns run by Barack Obama and John McCain, and the victory of the former, engendered in the American people a sense of optimism about the future, even as the country continued to sink into a severe recession.

Today, those feelings are mostly gone, having been dissipated by public perceptions of stalled recoveries in jobs and housing and government getting more expensive and intrusive, said former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who spoke at a Tuesday morning session during the Mortgage Bankers 2011 Convention & Expo in Chicago. Bush was joined by David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief political advisor, who added that concerns about corruption and incompetence on Wall Street were fueling the fire.

“There’s a dark cloud over our country,” Bush said. “The hope and optimism that Obama brought to the country in 2008 have been replaced by despair. I think any incumbent in 2012 will have a tough challenge.”

Of course, the Republicans have their own challenges. The party is divided right now on ideological grounds, Axelrod pointed out. “The Republican party of the past was a more organized, hierarchical party,” he said. “It’s different now. You’ve got the Tea Party and the Martini Party.”

Bush acknowledged that the GOP was a bit fragmented, with libertarians, social conservatives, and defense hawks jockeying for primacy. However, he predicted that when the primary ended, these groups would unite behind the candidate. “I think you’ll see the end of this fracturing,” Bush said. “The overriding fear will be of a second [Obama] term.”

Because of the public mood and political circumstances right now, Bush predicted that the campaigns would be rancorous, with both sides pursuing a “win ugly” strategy. The Republican candidate, whoever that may be, will constantly reinforce that the president’s economic policies have not worked, without focusing too much on policies that he or she would put in place if elected. On the other side, Obama will probably argue that if the opposition had been in charge, things would be much worse today.

That’s a shame, Bush added, because the election should be about the future direction of the country, not a “food fight” over which candidate or party is worse. “I’m not optimistic that this is going to be about long-term solutions for the country, as much as I’d like that,” he said. “The natural inclination is to create doubt about the other side’s weaknesses. There’s going to be a lot of spending by independent groups. You’re really going to have to like politics to watch [the political campaigns] on television.”

Both Axelrod and Bush agreed that economic issues would dominate the election, but differed in how they would address those issues. Axelrod argued that several underlying economic problems extended well beyond the financial shenanigans of the past few years, going back decades in some cases. Irresponsible policy decisions, highly partisan politics, and macroeconomic trends that have caused middle class wages to flatten or even fall since 1970 contributed to the current climate of fear and mistrust in political and business institutions.

In this environment, the most critical thing is to restore the public’s trust in those institutions through sound policy. That’s why it’s crucial to keep recent financial reforms — such as those contained in Dodd-Frank — in place, Axelrod said. “The American people need assurances that the financial sector will be run transparently and fairly,” he explained. “I think the most important thing we can do is make sure consumers know what they’re buying. That means no hidden fees or penalties. Whatever is being charged should be charged in the open.”

Axelrod added that “we have to end Fannie and Freddie as we know it, but we have to do that transition in a way that’s not disruptive to the market.”

Bush said the problem with respect to the economy is not so much policy as messaging. “My view is markets work much better than they’ve been given credit for recently,” he explained. “There’s real hostility toward businesses in America today. In those kinds of situations, most businesses go into the fetal position and hope it will just go away. But you have to defend your position in the marketplace of ideas. If you’re not out there dealing with these issues, you can expect to get beat on.”

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at bsummerfield@realtors.org.

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  1. Donna

    My take as to what has brought us to this point is the greed that existed in some large businesses with no regard for the public and the concept of spending large sums of money with no budget or way to pay for these expenditures. An inclusive approach as opposed to a exclusive approach is needed to move this country forward.

  2. Brian, thanks for the post. It is a shame when our past president is talking about our country’s presidential election a “food fight” can be referenced as a comparison. Although it is true, the campaigns are less and less about the future and more about what problems the other guys has caused.

  3. Toni

    Thank you Brian for writing what was said instead of “spinning” it around, this way we hear what was said. I am hoping (and I don’t use that word lightly any more) that out of these debates and this election cycle we come together once again and unite and stop allowing others to divide us. We are still the best Nation in the world and need to do our homework as it is our duty to get the facts and VOTE. This will start us back on the right road and put our country back on track. I do believe that we can not fault the whole system and the banks for our mess. As usual it can take just a few greedy and corrupt and in some cases inept people that can try their best to bring our system down. I have seen the division and constant reporting the fault of the banks for our Real Estate market we are in. It is people who are using the system in many cases to destroy their home and rip off the banks and in turn the people as we are the ones that are left to clean up. the sooner we can stop the blame game and take responsibility the better. We are America and we will overcome. I think we have awakened and we must continue to be responsible and not be swayed by media and do the research for ourselves. The election is not coming fast enough. God Bless us all.

  4. Uh…that wasn’t President Bush who he quoted but Jeb Bush. As far as spinning? Definitely a democrats choice of thoughts. Blaming what the other guys has caused? Obama made a career of that. You definitely got Obama’s position though, he couldn’t promise things to get better. He just wanted to make sure he was different from the last president. He definitely accomplished that. The election isn’t coming fast enough.

  5. Bill

    Not all would agree with “and the victory of the former, engendered in the American people a sense of optimism about the future”. I, for one, believe the past three years of the current administration are exactly what candidate Obama had in mind: redistribution of wealth, expanded role of the federal government, distinctly anti-business policies and regulations, and increased state and personal dependancy on the “nanny state”. We need a change at the top!