Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose. The implication being that candidates may wax eloquent and use all sorts of haughty language about pie-in-the-sky ideas and fringy ideologies while running for office, but all that rhetoric and all those empty promises and ideologies invariably come crashing to the ground whenever the winner places his campaign rhetoric his rear view mirror and assumes the day-in and day-out responsibilities of the job.
And whatever truth Cuomo’s words held when he said them has only been ramped up this election; in fact, to an almost unprecedented degree. This year’s unlikeliest of presidential campaigns has tapped into a level of pent-up populism and displaced workingman anxiety that we’ve not seen since the Great Depression.
One particular candidate on the far left and another on the far right are not only not going away, they’re threatening to change politics forever in this country. And in the process they’re taking their respective party’s longstanding status quo and power structure and turning them on their head.
But all that populism, while so real its downright palpable, has proven to be a slippery slope. Because it has emboldened candidates across the board to say things that, while making headlines and drawing roaring howls of approval, are at their best economically unlikely, and at their worst economically dangerous.
Listen to the rhetoric. To hear them say it, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would ban fracking yesterday. Donald Trump would impose broad and sweeping tariffs and (for all practical purposes) seal us off from the world. And Ted Cruz would make it his business to deport millions of American workers.
Such ideas are insane and would end up inflicting far more damage to U.S. businesses like mine than the “problems” they’re designed to target. Don’t believe me? Consider: the strength of my business is directly tied to the price of oil. Not only that, but I have developed a customer base that now represents the four corners of the globe. And finally, not too long ago I lost a valued, dedicated and long-term employee to a random, capricious, and entirely unnecessary overreach by the U.S. State Department.
I’ve lived, in other words, the realities of so much of this year’s very pointed campaign rhetoric.
For better or for worse (and like it or not), banks – and not businesses – are the drivers of this economy. The bankers believe in you, they have confidence in your company, and they detect a level of certainty and predictability in the marketplace, they will open the spigot and dispense their cash to job creators. Look at what’s happening in Detroit. The banks, after so many years of refusing to lend money to entrepreneurs, small businessmen, and homeowners, have started to see the Motor City as a now-stabilizing and now-intriguing growth opportunity — and, as a result, they have begun doling out their money accordingly. That’s why so many economists finally, and at long last, feel there may be substance to all those Detroit-has-turned-the-corner stories.
But if any of the crazy campaign ideas now being bandied about were to ever take root, if only for a month, an almost seismic amount of damage would be inflicted on the economy. Ban fracking, wall us off from the rest of the world, tax my customers so much they start looking elsewhere, or deport a few million of our economy’s hardest working and lowest paid workers, and watch what happens. The banks will get antsy, they’ll close their pockets, and we’ll see our changing-but-still-healthy economy come to a halt so quickly and so abruptly we’d not only face the prospect of a recession, we’d likely suffer whiplash.
Look, empty campaign promises are nothing new. In fact, they’re as much a part of winning office as kissing babies. But this year in particular, all those empty promises and pithy sound bytes have managed to achieve a level of traction rarely before seen on the American campaign trail. And the danger is, because of their populist appeal those promises have emboldened those making them to actually be foolish enough to drink their own Kool-Aid.
And while most successful candidates have always been wise enough to park the poetry at the door and govern in prose, this year – as we’ve seen time and time again – is almost without precedent. The candidates feel more likely (and emboldened) than ever to attempt to actually institute their wacky, populist, touch-a-raw-nerve ideas.
Will it happen? Who knows? But I know this; as a small business owner who relies heavily on (and is deeply invested in) the global marketplace, I sure as hell will be waiting with bated breath to watch what unfolds.
And, at least in that regard, I won’t be alone. Because as sure as you’re reading this, there will be any number of bankers right there with me.