Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Election That Restored Insanity

(source: NY Daily News)

(source: Huffington Post)

1. I don't know quite what to make of this week's election results. Every poll showed this wave was coming for months and with a poor economy in the early stages of recovery and unemployment still between 9.5-10%, historical trends show that the party in power was sure to lose at least 45 seats no matter what they said or did the previous 2 years.

But exit polls showed that voters disapproved of Republicans by the same amount as Dems. This was more of a "throw that bum out and vote in a different bum and see how that goes" kind of a election.

One pundit made a point that voters are like Goldilocks now, except they never seem to think anything is "just right." Think of the numerous conflicting, schizophrenic messages voters have delivered in the last 6 years. After 2004, it looked like a very Republican country. Karl Rove was getting credit for creating a "permanent Republican majority." And I had to consider learning a new language for when I would be forced to move to Europe. Then in 2006 all of a sudden voters decided that everything that happened the previous 4 to 6 years (much of which was that way in 2004, but was ignored and/or actually supported then) was no good. "The wars suck, the economy sucks, and we want a new direction." Even though those things sucked in 2004 as well. By the time 2008 rolled around, the wave continued. The economy got gradually worse until it bottomed out and the Dems were fired up, so they voted even more decisively in favor of a new direction.

Then after about a year into Obama's presidency, the tide started turning the other way leading to this wave we saw in 2010, with voters again wanting a new direction. Voters keep delivering huge changes in offices that normally would represent a mandate for that agenda. Then when that party tries to enact that agenda, voters complain that they went too far. Between 2004 and 2006 and then between 2008 and 2010, neither Bush nor Obama did anything they didn't campaign on doing. If you didn't like it then, you shouldn't have voted for it. Elections have consequences but impatient apathetic American voters (either by voting or not voting at all) end up delivering a result that is a reset every 2 years.

Apparently people think 2 years is enough time to reverse 8 years of bad governance and economic problems, and really 30 years of income redistribution upward. Voters' memories are short, seeming to forget what happened 5 minutes ago, so I guess that gives the Dems a lot of hope for 2012. But it's enough to give you whiplash. And when what voters want doesn't make sense or is so unrealistic it can't be delivered, it's to the benefit of the party that has no realistic policy agenda, like the Republican party of today. Voters say they want politicians to fix all of these big problems. But that involves hard choices and tough votes. And then when they actually have the cojones to make those tough votes, voters respond by voting them out of office. So voters are not giving politicians any political incentive to ever do the hard thing and fix the big problems. And you wonder why problems never get solved.

Now obviously the same people aren't voting for all of these different things. Some stay home and that makes the opposition voters decisive in that election. But there does seem to be this wishy washy 10-15% of the electorate, who have no idea what they want and end up being the swing votes in close elections. So they vote and if whatever they wanted doesn't materialize within a few months, they are ready to throw those people out of office, even when slow and steady progress seems to be happening, as it is now (11 consecutive months of private sector job growth after 22 straight months of job losses prior to that - the last 11 months of Bush and first 11 under Obama, etc).

2. Related to the Rally to Restore Sanity from last weekend, I am big fans of theirs but I didn't really understand what Stewart/Colbert were trying to accomplish. They engaged in a lot of false equivalency, criticizing all media as being equally bad, when in reality it's more like most media is just incompetent and lazy, and one is really a propaganda outlet (FOX).

Neither type of media problem is helpful, but lumping them together as being equally bad is also wrong. To paraphrase what Keith Olbermann tweeted after the Stewart/Colbert rally, "whatever the losses on Tuesday will they be because liberals were too loud or too timid?"

It reminds me of the childish "Both parties stink so I don't pay attention to anything" philosophy you hear from a lot of people. It makes the person who says it sound like they are above it all, but ultimately it is the duty for all of us to stay minimally involved and informed and make decisions based on facts.

The only thing worse than that is the voters who complain about the negative advertising and say they want to see more cooperation. One voter interviewed for a story in Illinois said, "I'd like to get to the bottom of what's really right for this country, and that's kind of hard while they're all calling each other names." Oh dear god, not name-calling! Here's a thought: why don't you read about what they are saying about each other, taking whatever they say with a grain of salt, find out what the facts are, and stop whining about politicians being negative.

And this obsession with milquetoast bipartisanship by many in the media like columnists like Broder, Brooks, former Senator Evan Bayh, etc, (and yes Stewart and Colbert are in the media whether they like it or not) is a luxury that a lot of people don't have. Most people aren't observing politics from their little ivory towers, wishing we would all get along. Getting along is fine, but getting along doesn't always get health care reform passed, or a green energy/carbon emissions bill passed (as we saw last year), or help preserve a vibrant, functioning middle class. Bipartisan deals only work when both sides want to negotiate in good faith. I won't be holding my breath for that to happen any time soon.

The last 2 major votes that received large bipartisan support (i.e., more than a few token Republicans) of more than 60 votes were TARP bailouts and the Iraq retrospect probably the 2 most unpopular things Congress has done in the last decade. Iraq War votes killed the GOP House majority in 2006 and the TARP votes along with economy helped kill the Democratic majority in 2010.

For better or worse you only have 2 choices when it comes to voting. So do some research and make the best choice for yourself. Develop a coherent worldview that doesn't change with whatever way the wind is blowing and stick with it for more than 2 years. Be open to new ideas and new and different ways to get positive results, but at least stay with a consistent philosophy.

You can be partisan, passionate, and also sane and respectful of opposing views. You just probably won't be shown on cable news shows too often. But principled moderation didn't bring about civil rights or women's rights or Obama's election for that matter.

Sometimes you have to get your hands a little dirty to get tough things accomplished, when corporate power and the status quo inertia seems to make getting anything significant done nearly impossible. I obviously am not old enough to have lived through FDR and LBJ and the historic legislation they passed that helped build the strong 20th century middle class America that so many people are nostalgic for now. But I guarantee that at times they were hyperbolic and over the top in their rhetoric. They would have been mocked by Jon Stewart. And if Fox News was around then, they'd be calling them communists/socialists/Hitler 24 hours a day.

3. Some other headscratching results from the polls:

- 35% of people blamed Wall St for our current economic problems, followed by Bush at 29% and Obama at 24%. (I guess the other 12% blamed Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb, hiyooo).

But of the 35% who blamed Wall St, they voted 56-42 in favor of Republicans. This tells me 2 things: A) the ads run by the GOP (ironically, funded by Wall St!) linking Dems to the bailouts of Wall St were probably the single most effective ads of the election cycle, and B) voters really don't pay close attention, since they are putting a lot of people back in power who voted for the bailouts and voted against the Wall St reform bill that would alleviate the need for future bailouts...all because they didn't like the bailouts.

- Exit polls in Nevada showed senior citizens backed Sharron Angle, the Senate candidate who wanted to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it, by a margin of 53-44. The biggest problem in Nevada is like a 15% state unemployment rate and the collapse of the Real Estate market there. And seniors typically aren't affected as much by those things. And Harry Reid ended up winning with younger voters. Talk about people voting against their own self-interest. Plus Reid is like 125 years old so you'd think older voters would relate to him.

- But the single most stupefying anecdote I heard all night was the woman in Indiana who was interviewed on CNN. She voted for Obama in 2008 and in 2010 pulled the lever for a straight Republican ticket. She's been out of work for over 2 years. And her #1 issue is she wants more/better health care coverage. So she just voted for people who want to repeal health care and against the party who voted for the bill giving people like her more affordable access to health care and more protections against insurance company abuses once she gets it. Did she not pay attention during that year-long debate over health care? I believe it was in the news a few times.

4. So what does it all mean? Obviously people are angry and a lot of swing voters all turned out and voted Republican while a lot of the Democratic base stayed home. Obviously real people voted the way they did.

But I think what you see is the culmination of a 20-month or so campaign by Corporate America and its surrogates (Fox News, Limbaugh, etc) to take their big piece of the country back, using the real Tea Party people as useful idiots. The Tea Party is simply the Republican party re-branded with a new name, since people rejected that other brand a few years ago, and still do. So now it's the same party, same policies, same corporate backers, but now they are the "new and improved Tea Party" going to Washington to enact change. And the first orders of business are to extend tax cuts for millionaires, repeal the health care law, and undo financial regulatory reform laws. A pretty clear agenda to take care of those in the top 2% and screw everyone else. So a return to those booming times of late 2008!

The early Tea Party rallies were more grassroots things. And then the Karl Rove and Dick Armey and the big corporate donors figured they could ride (and then eventually steer) this bus back into power. So they astro-turfed it from there on out. Sweeping new changes do not scare voters as much as they scare big powerful corporations, who then in turn spend big money running ads scaring voters about things they have no reason to fear, hoping they'll put Corporate America's wholly-owned subsidiary, the Republican Party, back into power.

So after 2 years, some of the Democratic base was unenthused and disappointed over not getting everything the Dems campaigned on, an economic turn-around, and a bag of chips all in just 2 years. And younger voters are disillusioned because, like, you know lots of stuff they wanted didn't get done yet...or something and so they couldn't be bothered voting. 2006 and 2008 enthusiasm: poof - gone. Those first time voters thought the work ended with the election in 2008. That was the beginning, not the end. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call to them to stay the hell involved and vote in 2012.

And so while too much of the Democratic base stayed home, an energized conservative base and frustrated middle-of-the-road voters, just voted to put most of the same politicians, running on pretty much the same exact platform, right back in power after just 2 years. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. So in 2010, I guess the majority voters opted to restore insanity rather than continue on the long path forward. Welcome to the Idiocracy.

"Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? ...If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits ain't going to do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So, maybe, it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here... like, the public...."
-- George Carlin

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