In 1992, political strategist James Carville coined the catchphrase that won Bill Clinton the presidency: "It's the economy, stupid."
Clinton made good on his word to address the deficit and high unemployment and through both skill and luck, presided over unprecedented economic growth and prosperity.
The two wars started by his successor, along with the financial meltdown precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, eroded all such gains and any optimism about America's short- and long-term economic future.
So Carville's slogan is as timely as ever, though now it's been distilled into the panicky particular of "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" Pundits and politicians of all stripes reflexively chant the mantra and everyone knows that the presidency will be won next year by the candidate with the most compelling plan for tackling the nation's high unemployment.
In the soundbyte world we live in, pithy slogans always get a lot of traction but the deeper realities they may point to almost never do. And while the numbers don't lie -- unemployment is alarmingly high, especially given that many of the jobless aren't factored into the published statistics -- neither do they illuminate the deeper problem, one that the "Occupy Wall Street" protestors are coalescing around: "It's about power, stupid."
It's always been about power. The colonization of the Americas undertaken by the crowns of Europe was a centuries-long experiment in the wielding of power and the dispossessing of the poor for political and financial gain. Our sanitized versions of Christopher Columbus the brave explorer are slowly, thankfully giving way to more truthful accounts of what the decimation of native peoples wrought. (The colonization of the imagination is one of the most insidious of takeovers to recognize and undo.)
In our own time the "jobs" rhetoric from both the right and the left ignores the power grabs and power differentials that led to the hemorrhaging of American jobs in the first place. The simple truth is that multinational corporations could make more money for their shareholders by outsourcing jobs to third-world countries so that is what they did.
This was not a moral dilemma for CEOs; it was a "sound business decision." And the gospel according to free-market capitalism (the USA's true religion) preaches that what is good for American business is good for America.
(On a related note: For all the adoration heaped on Steve Jobs this past week (iDolatry?), Apple has a pretty abysmal record on workers' rights. But our collective commodity fetish