2012's defining political issue

Commentator Robert Reich says the defining political issue of 2012 won’t be the government’s size. It will be who government is for.

Jeremy Hobson: So in addition to banking fees, 2011 brought us some new things to talk about: the debt ceiling, credit downgrades, the Kardashians. So what will 2012 bring, other than hopefully less
about all three of those things?

Well, Robert Reich has a prediction for a commentary series we're calling: What Now?


Robert Reich: The defining political issue in 2012 won't be the size of government. It's who government is for. Nearly 80 percent of respondents in a recent Pew Foundation poll said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.

After all, Wall Street got bailed out, but home owners caught in the fierce downdraft caused by the Street's excesses have got almost nothing. Big agribusiness continues to rake in billions in price supports. Big pharma gets extended patent protection that drives up everyone's drug prices. Big oil gets its own federal subsidy.

But small businesses on Main Street are barely making it.

American Airlines uses bankruptcy to ward off debtors and renegotiate labor contracts. But the law won't allow you to use personal bankruptcy to renegotiate your home mortgage.

Not a day goes by without Republicans decrying the budget deficit. But the cost of one of the deficit's biggest drivers -- Medicare -- would be lower if Medicare could use its bargaining leverage to get drug companies to reduce their prices. Big pharma won't allow it.

The other big budgetary expense is national defense. The basic defense budget -- unrelated to the costs of fighting wars -- is now about 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago, adjusted for inflation. We can't even cancel obsolete weapons systems. Could this be because defense contractors have carefully cultivated sponsors on Capitol Hill, and located their plants and facilities in politically important congressional districts?

"Big government," in other words, isn't the problem. The problem is the big money that's taking over government.

We need real campaign finance reform. And a constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court's bizarre rulings that under the First Amendment money is speech and corporations are people.

We've got to get big money out of politics if we want to get our democracy back.


Hobson: Robert Reich teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His most recent book is called "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future." We'd love to hear your thoughts -- write to us.

About the author

Robert Reich is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

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