If I’ve learnt anything during my two-week visit to the United States it’s that this a country of unparalleled contrasts.
There’s the powerful marriage of individuality and a sense of community, unlike anywhere else on earth.
There’s an often cringe-worthy sense of introspection and a general lack of insight with the world at times. But conversely there’s a really intuitive sense of direction and that entrepreneurial spirit that built so many great American businesses over the last two centuries.
There’re places that are crippled by poverty, worse by crime; areas of a city that foreign tourists are advised as no go zones. Contrasted with these areas of desperation are the palatial high-rises of downtown New York City and the gated communities in the expansive suburbs of San Francisco and Chicago.
And arguably the most pressing difference to Australia is the predominance of homeless people throughout the United States; tragically most of whom are veterans.
And it is within this country of searing contrasts that Barack Obama seeks a second term and Mitt Romney seeks the Presidency as they do battle for another month up until Election Day, November 6.
The clear mood on the ground is that the President will likely be re-elected. There’s clearly a growing sense of security and confidence that although the economic recovery has been sluggish to say the least, the country is slowly turning the corner. Curiously enough, many believe that it was Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention a few weeks back that kick-started this uptick in confidence about the country’s direction.
Still there are immeasurable challenges facing the United States over the next few years that voters ought to be mindful for, and reflective in my conversations with Americans across the country.
The biggest concern, especially amongst those of the younger generations, is that Social Security is a system they’re paying into now but will never reap the benefits from in the future. The fear is that with the rapidly aging population, the Social Security fund (set up during The Great Depression by FDR) will go bankrupt over the coming decades, implying that by the time the younger generations retire, there’ll be no fund to benefit from.
But disappointingly, and this is an issue that blights debates about other entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, these important topics are small-balled and billed as slogans against the opposing candidate. And this is committed by both sides; Obama effectively so, as he continues to instill fear within retirees suggesting that Medicare will be effectively ended by Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan’s budget plan. The lofty hope is that once this election comes and goes and if the President is re-elected, Congressional Republicans will come to the party and make a balanced deal that includes spending on entitlements and reform of the tax code.
Whilst one can hope that the First Presidential Debate will offer us a chance to see the two candidates properly engage on these important economic issues and others (of note would be reform to the immigration system) it’s likely we’ll see another exchange of petty barbs back and forth, although criticism of Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income tax is definitely warranted and done so by most voters I spoke to.
However a recent set of probing debate questions was posted by POLITICO earlier in the week – ones that would definitely hold the candidates effectively to account.
At stake in this election are some critical issues. But of greater importance is the debate about the fundamental role of government and those who practice public policy to effect positive economic change through their stewardship.
Whilst I personally think the President will be re-elected, there is still a month to go and some (but rapidly evaporating) time for Romney to make a comeback. But aside from the hurly-burly of Election Day on November 6, the real challenges for the United States economy lie well beyond that.
In this land of great contrasts, there’s still plenty to do.
You can follow me and my musings on the impending Presidential Election on Twitter at @CRJWeinberg.
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