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A newer deal?


It got somewhat lost yesterday, what with the world going loopy over a new iPhone, but the General Election kicked off properly, now that Senator Clinton has done the decent thing after finally acknowledged what most of us knew after the Pennsylvania primary. Barack Obama, freed of the need to be mindful of appealing to uncommitted primary voters, has launched a two-week tour targeting McCain, and if his speech in North Carolina was anything to go by, the gloves got left in Illinois.

Anyone who thought that Obama’s promise to bring a new kind of politics to the 2008 campaign meant a passive, ‘sweetness and light’ approach received a rude awakening as he repeatedly laid into McCain’s inconsistent positions and ill-thought out campaign promises, particularly on the economy:

John McCain once said that he couldn’t vote for the Bush tax breaks in good conscience because they were too skewed to the wealthiest Americans. Later, he said it was irresponsible to cut taxes during a time of war because we simply couldn’t afford them. Well, nothing’s changed about the war, but something’s certainly changed about John McCain, because these same Bush tax cuts are now his central economic policy. Not only that, but he is now calling for a new round of tax giveaways that are twice as expensive as the original Bush plan and nearly twice as regressive. His policy will spend nearly $2 trillion on tax breaks for corporations, including $1.2 billion for Exxon alone, a company that just recorded the highest profits in history.

Think about that. At a time when we’re fighting two wars, when millions of Americans can’t afford their medical bills or their tuition bills, when we’re paying more than $4 a gallon for gas, the man who rails against government spending wants to spend $1.2 billion on a tax break for Exxon Mobil. That isn’t just irresponsible. It’s outrageous.

Along the way, Obama has also been mooting the idea of using public spending to stimulate the economy, provide jobs, and tackling the growing problem of deferred maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure. To put that problem in context, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission issued a report that underlined just how much work really needs to be done to the US’ highways and byways to bring them back up to spec: at least $220 billion a year for the next few decades. That’s almost twice as much as the country is spending in Iraq, which I think we can all agree is a lot of dough.

From where I’m sitting, putting the nation to work to start fixing the things that the baby boomers didn’t feel the need to pay for is more than a good idea, it’s an urgent necessity, and anyone who’s feared for their life braving the potholes on I-75 might agree. Then again, I’m a European and Keynesian policies aren’t the economic equivalent of McCain’s insult to his wife were I come from. Is the US ready for a public works program to try and return the country to its salad days of the 50s and 60s? Or has the Chicago school so thoroughly infected the discourse that any attempt would be portrayed as a remake of Il Duce draining the marshes?

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