In this year’s presidential campaign, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have embraced familiar scapegoats for America’s stagnated economic growth — Obama singled out big oil subsidies in last week’s debate and in August, Romney promised to eliminate all government funding of Amtrak.
Both are examples of popular partisan talking points that appeal to voters but would have little to no effect on the national economy.
Presenting such simple solutions to the nation’s economic woes is a way of appealing to student voters, who especially favor information that is quick and quantified. Politicians take advantage of voters’ interests and manner of absorbing information by presenting one-line solutions that are misleading and extremely narrow in scope. These catch phrases serve only to deceive students into thinking that economic recovery can come about from simple political measures.
The $4 billion in “big oil subsidies” that Obama referred to in last Wednesday’s debate is not specifically designated for petroleum corporations. Rather, these are broad tax credits that reach across the entire energy industry. Ironically, the largest energy subsidy utilized by oil companies is a $1.7 billion manufacturer’s tax deduction designed to keep manufacturing in the United States — a goal that Obama has repeatedly touted as a top priority in his campaign.
Federal funding of Amtrak is even lower than big oil subsidies, costing the U.S. government just $1.56 billion in the 2010 fiscal year. While this figure might seem large at first, it is an almost insignificant number in the larger picture of U.S. government spending. Yet Romney spoke of cutting this funding as though it would make a large difference in America’s economic future.
As Obama did with big oil subsidies and Romney with Amtrak funding, many politicians use scapegoats to make easy connections with voters and to avoid larger issues at hand. For example, entitlement spending — encompassing massive government programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — already consumes 58 percent of federal spending and is growing at an alarming rate. Entitlement spending costs the U.S. government more than $2 trillion each year. Yet both Obama and Romney offered only modest solutions to responsibly sustain these programs through the next generation. Both politicians instead referred to symbolic measures like oil subsidies and Amtrak funding that appeal to many voters, but have almost no effect on America’s economy or national debt.
Both proposals are prime examples of exactly what student voters so often fall for, because it seems like such a simple comparative choice: eliminate oil subsidies or Amtrak funding to improve the economy.
In an age when Twitter and Facebook present the news in more simplified ways than ever, it has become customary for students to expect these simple, cookie-cutter solutions to complex national problems. Unfortunately, Democrats and Republicans are increasingly relying on these types of misleading talking points to exploit student voters who don’t expend the effort to dig deeper into issues.
It is imperative that students challenge popular one-line catch phrases and be skeptical of politicians employing false arguments and emotional appeal for political gain. If students continue to absorb talking points and overlook counterarguments, they will gradually lose their collective power as voters and become nothing more than pawns in Washington’s political games.
Ryan Townsend is a sophomore majoring in business administration. His column “The Blame Game” runs Tuesdays.