The debate on Wednesday between Congressman John Tierney and Republican challenger Richard Tisei illuminated many of the substantive differences between them. (Daniel Fishman, Libertarian candidate, also participated.)
The two major candidates offer voters a real choice. They hold distinctly different analyses of what has caused our economy to crash and then stall; what measures should be taken to revive it; and what role government should play in stimulating economic growth.
They disagree on proposed initiatives to address the increasing costs and long-term viability of Medicare, Medicaid, and the entire health care system.
They disagree on the need for regulating the banks and the financial markets, and for reining in the greed and recklessness that promoted irresponsibility on Wall Street.
I prefer Congressman Tierney’s positions on all of these issues. To start with the state of our economy — the most important issue — Tierney believes that some additional government stimulus is necessary to spur the economy, to increase employment, to increase consumption, and to encourage complementary action in the private sector.
He believes that wise investments can be made in the educational sector, the energy industries, job retraining, and in the repair and modernization of so much of our infrastructure.
These investments and stimuli are needed in the immediate term while longer-term debt reduction plans can also be designed to phase in as the economy becomes stronger.
Mr. Tisei, on the other hand, appears to be against any further government stimulus efforts, and seems hostile to the very idea of public sector jobs. He stated, “The government doesn’t create jobs.” Well, the fact is, it does, along with the private sector.
The reality of our national economy — and the global economy — is that governments and private enterprise together are partners in shaping and determining the complex thing known as the market. It’s not a pure free market — it’s unavoidably a very mixed system.
A very big philosophical difference, then, between Tierney and Tisei is in each’s attitude toward this market. Tisei sees government and business as nearly adversarial, saying that “free enterprise and individual creativity are being stifled by government.” He claims that “massive regulatory burdens” are hampering business and are partly responsible for our stalled economy.
Tierney does not agree with that assessment. He stated clearly that it is lack of customers and lack of demand that are the problem. And he believes that government action — in ways that strengthen and support both public and private enterprises — can help the market.
I think that Mr. Tisei also errs in his judgements about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Dodd-Frank bill. He wants to repeal Obamacare, claiming that it doesn’t address health care costs and that it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.
Tierney has rebutted these assertions, noting correctly that the ACA is full of cost control initiatives, and was in fact conceived with that goal (savings) in mind. He has also pointed out that the ACA fully preserves and expands the existing private health care system.
Tisei criticizes the new tax on medical devices that comes with the ACA, but he ignores the fact that it and other fees within the new law are the products of extensive negotiation and compromise with the hospital, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries to balance the costs and benefits across both the public and private sectors.
Tisei also criticizes the Dodd-Frank bill, which Tierney supports. This legislation, which even many banking insiders say is not unreasonable, attempts to identify and reform the riskiest and most destabilizing practices and factors of the industry.
Finally, Tisei tries to make much of his claim to be bipartisan — often saying that he’d work with Democrats — but I look in vain for persuasive signs that this would be the case in the future. Although Tisei is genuinely moderate on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and civil rights, those are not the subjects that have precipitated the acrimony and paralysis that have characterized Congress for the past four years.
Tisei would have impressed me if he had acknowledged that it has been primarily the uncompromising stance of the Tea Party Republican congressmen that has defeated multiple attempts at blending program cuts with new revenue sources. In these times of incredible levels of distrust, perhaps only mainstream Republicans can credibly point out the extreme and destructive rigidity of their more ideological brethren.
Tisei, to his credit, did not take the mindless, Norquist anti-tax pledge. He needs to explain why he did not, and explain to citizens why such a robotic pledge is the very opposite of politics, a profession that requires an ability to compromise and work toward mutual and multiple goals.
Our economy is still in a very precarious place. And we still have a shortage of mature, sophisticated politicians who are willing to lead, to educate citizens, and to work together to craft balanced, nuanced solutions.
Brian T. Watson is a regular Salem News columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.