Bipartisan agreement that neither party is connecting

Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press captured a feeling that the typical rhetoric of this midterm campaign (your party has screwed up the country; no your party screwed it up) isn’t connecting with the public’s deepest thoughts and feelings.

The first half of the program was a debate between the U.S. Senate candidates from Illinois about which of them was a bigger crook or liar. Just pitiful. (The Dem nominee, Alex Giannoulias, whose family bank lent money to mobsters, was asked twice whether he was aware that he was lending money to criminals. Both times, he precisely non-answered that he wasn’t aware of the “extent” of their criminal activities.

The roundtable segment in the second half featured a liberal and a conservative journalist who are pretty good pulse-takers. Joe Klein of Time and Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal were in seemingly total agreement on the main analysis point:

 The public is not really so much angry as sad and worried. The country is preparing to deliver a rebuke to the Democrats, mostly because they are in the In party and the status quo stinks but not, both analysts agreed, because the electorate thinks Republicans have ideas that can make it better.

Klein has just finished a four-week 12-state road trip talking to voters. His main takeaway was that Americans:

“Are freaked out, they’re panicked.  They’re really scared that the jobs that we’ve lost are not coming back this time, and that their kids won’t live as well as they have.  And instead of this kind of tit-for-tat political stuff that you see in all the negative ads, they want to hear real ideas about how we’re, how we’re going to rebuild the economy.

(MTP Host David) Gregory, quoting from Klein’s current cover piece: “ ‘I found the same themes dominant everywhere—a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.  There was a unanimous sense that Washington was broken beyond repair,’ which I just want to underline.  ‘But the disgraceful behavior of the financial community, and its debilitating effects on the American economy over the past 30 years, was the issue that raised the most passion, by far, in the middle of the country.’ It’s as if to say Americans are saying, who do we trust now?”

MR. KLEIN:  “Right, exactly.  I mean, the investment community, people are putting two and two together.  The same people who did the mergers and acquisitions that led to a lot of these jobs being shipped overseas are the—then turned their attention to the housing market and began giving, with the help of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, these mortgages to people who shouldn’t have gotten them and then created these crazy financial products, made a gazillion dollars off them, and then the—and, and caused the crash of 2008…So people are looking at the financial community, they’re looking at China, and they’re not seeing the president of the United States or the Republicans really talking about this.”

Peggy Noonan, who came to fame as a Reagan speechwriter, sees a collapse of optimism:

“The biggest change politically in my entire lifetime is the fact that the American people now no longer feel that they will be handing on to their country a stronger, better place where their kids will get a job and their kids can get a house.  The—I wouldn’t call it pessimism, but a new sober, almost sadness is out there….and I think in part is shaping things.  Nobody expects the kind of economic growth that we are going to need to produce enough jobs not only for everybody to keep their job, but for young people coming up, the new people, to keep these jobs.

But the larger issue is that I don’t think the American people look at Washington and see people who, A, can know what needs to be done; and B, can actually summon the will and grit to do it.  They don’t see that leadership… and so they are frustrated because, you know, they hire leaders to make things better.  And now they don’t feel, whoever they hire, it’ll get better…

I think the issue, the way I would put it with regard to the president, is a certain off-pointness.  The country has consistently be—been talking about and thinking about A, B, and C, and he’s on some other letters of the alphabet.  And even when he comes forward, I think the past week when he is on the stump, the issues that he’s speaking of seem extraneous to the central issues and anxieties.”

Here’s how Klein, based on his road trip, summarized the public attitude toward Obama:

“…People respect him.  You don’t see the fist-shaking anger that you often see on cable news. Certainly, there’s some Obama haters out there.  Most people respect him. But they don’t quite admire him. 

He’s floating over this debate in an—you know, and, and doesn’t seem to be part of the things that people are most concerned about.  They don’t understand what’s in the health reform legislation, they don’t understand what’s in the financial reform regulation.  They’re beginning to see the stimulus in a different way because you can’t drive 30 miles in this country without hitting a road crew.  And they’re feeling a little bit better about the auto bailout.  But they feel that the big issues that we’re talking about here—the jobs being expressed overseas, China—they haven’t heard from him.  For every time someone mentioned Afghanistan, the war in Afghanistan, which is an issue I’ve been obsessed with, they mentioned China 25 times.”

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by chuck holtman on 10/11/2010 - 12:15 pm.

    The population may be “sad and worried,” but it certainly is not “introspective.” The current situation is years (decades) in the making (well-charted in real time by any number of “introspective” folks) and our economy can be reoriented toward prosperity only through strategic and sustained effort for years hence. Avoiding a plummet into the abyss, let alone reembarking on a sustainable trajectory, requires a committed rethinking to mitigate climate change, dramatically reduce per capita consumption, address public health and education nationally and globally, and present an ethical face to the world that is the foundation of limiting the growth and impact of radical violence. An introspective public would demand full public financing of elections, require its “leaders” to lead and have the maturity to accept the responsibilities and the constraints on selfishness required for collective action to work. Instead a huge proportion of the public is consumed by trivialities, profoundly ignorant of the facts of the world, and ready to vote for whichever candidate or party best manipulates its most primitive fears and insecurities. Unless that changes (and I’m not hopeful, in case no one guessed), this little experiment in “democracy” will be a short one indeed.

  2. Submitted by Matt Pettis on 10/11/2010 - 01:05 pm.

    If there are other people out there as sick of Eric Black’s “High Broderism” (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=high%20broderism) approach to bipartisanship, I would highly recommend the following media critique of the press and their bipartisan fetish by Jay Rosen of the NYU Journalism institute: http://archive.pressthink.org/2010/06/14/ideology_press.html .

    The short synopsis is that there are some flawed reasons why may journalists revert to centrism, as Eric often does, and Jay Rosen’s analysis of why they do seems spot-on in many cases with Eric’s posts.

  3. Submitted by John E Iacono on 10/11/2010 - 01:12 pm.

    Liberals and democrats (not the same) may have their daubers down at the moment, and deservedly so: they have shown us in the past two years the disastrous effects of letting them have their arrogant way.

    But it does not seem to me that the COUNTRY is in the same fix.

    Some of us are worried, as we face job loss real (20%) or threatened (80%), and some of us may be discouraged. But a lot of us are just plain angry at the fix our rescued bankers and “everyone should own a home, able to afford it or not” politicians have put us in.

    We believe that NONE of those politicians on both sides of the aisle that refused to reign in FannyMay and Freddie should survive this election.

    And we think that those other politicians who used the crisis to push forward their big european government agenda should go, too.

    As for the bankers, it rankles to see them prospering at our expense, collecting big bonuses instead of being fired as they should have been and still should be, with their ill-gotten gains stripped from them. If they think they have got away with it, they have another think coming.

    For most Americans, I believe, there is still a belief that if we find work to do, work hard, and (now, more than ever) save some of what we earn we can get ahead in this society, and give a better life to our kids. We just have to flush those crooks at the top who have fleeced us.

    We are sobered, however, by the renewed realization that there is no “free lunch.” And we are more and more looking askance at those who have been enjoying one at our expense.

    The society that will emerge from this experience will be more like what those of us who lived through the thirties saw: more aware that things can go badly wrong, that hard work can pull one through, that bling is a waste of money, that contentment comes from those you love, not what you have, and that family and having good food on the table are the most important things in life.

    As for the exchange rates, the IMF, the stock market, the prime rates and all that other stuff the punsters are so fond of debating, we could care less, except to wish a pox on them all.

    The worker bees of our society are not so much disheartened as determined. And they will pull us through again.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/11/2010 - 03:53 pm.

    At least Democrats and Republicans can agree that there too little bipartisanship. That’s a starting point.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/11/2010 - 04:50 pm.

    Seeing some of those bankers go to jail might help people feel better. As would declaring ourselves done with killing civilians in the Middle East in order to prevent the occasional head-of-family from “fighting us here.”

    As would getting rid of at least half of the Congress’s Republicans and replacing them with Democrats. As would firing presidential advisors like Geithner and Summers and replacing Mr. Gates (when he leaves next year) with someone like Andrew Basevich — a military man who understands that American exceptionalism is a myth and that we no longer have the power or the money to keep the entire world safe while Americans starve.

    We know from experience that the Republican ideas didn’t work. And that their obstructiveness has prevented nominees from replacing Bush neocon or corporate appointees in essential governmental agencies. And that it has prevented serious, rather than partial, reform of Wall Street. And a real energy bill. And you name it.

    We also know that Keynesian economics worked in the past to return our country to economic health. That every Democratic president since Nixon has grown the economy faster than the deficit.

    We have yet to get Obama a real chance to effect the changes we so desperately need.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/11/2010 - 07:01 pm.

    I have to disagree with most of John’s post #3, though not at the beginning.

    It’s true, I think, that liberals and Democrats are not synonymous, though it would be difficult to draw that conclusion if you listened only to “conservative” talk radio and watched only Fox “news.”

    I’m tempted to start by arguing that it took George W. Bush 8 years to create this mess, so it seems only fair to give the Obama administration more than 2 years to clean it up, but that gives Bush too much credit.

    While he certainly contributed his share, Bush was merely following the script laid out a generation earlier by the radical right wing while the pleasant but inept Ronald Reagan did what his advisors told him to do. Among the results was a transformation of the political scene from an argument over how best to serve the common good to an argument over whether Democrats were evil incarnate. That argument continues, to no real benefit for anyone aside from well-paid political consultants and advertising agencies, the foreign owner of the Fox network, and several foreign entities now contributing to Republican campaigns, now that they can hide behind the anonymity granted by the egregiously bad Citizens United ruling.

    Among my own disappointments with Mr. Obama is that, rather than being arrogant – having mastered it long ago, Dick Cheney could have easily shown him how to do that – he’s bent over backward to be conciliatory to political forces and personalities who not only bear him nothing but ill will, but that also do not have the best interests of the American public at heart. The people who turned a government budget surplus into a trillion-dollar debt now want to lecture us about fiscal responsibility, which would be hilarious if it were not so cruel. These same people would cut off unemployment benefits – too costly, they say – while preserving the tax benefits scheduled to expire for the one percent – one percent – of Americans whose taxable incomes are more than a quarter million dollars a year. Obama has spent far too much time and effort trying to work with people who can’t be taken seriously as genuinely interested in the welfare of the public, only the welfare of the wealthy and of large corporations.

    He has not been helped by the fact that too many political officeholders have allowed themselves to become dependent on the campaign financing largess of corporations. No one – no one – gives a campaign $10,000, or, like Target, $150,000, and expects nothing in return. They’re buying access, which means they’re purchasing the government, and both parties are guilty, though I think the hands of the G.O.P. are far more dirty in this regard.

    I have no idea what the “…big european government agenda…” refers to, but we had nothing to do with the creation of the European Union, and “small government” in any literal sense is not capable of running a country of 300 million people.

    Some of us have never forgotten that things can go badly wrong in a hurry, and others have never believed anything other than that. Overconfidence may be rampant in banking circles, but not in working-class households. I don’t know that hard work will always be sufficient to correct errors, but I certainly agree that bling is both waste of money and distorter of character. Money corrupts just as surely as does power, and where the two overlap, which is often, the result is usually ugly in the extreme, as we’ve seen over the past couple years.

    Otherwise, I’m considerably more in agreement with Bernice in #5. Plenty of “investment bankers” have proved themselves to be crooks, and instead of fines, they should be in prison with Bernie Madoff, the unrepentant swindler. We should stop killing civilians – we should stop killing people of ANY kind – in the Middle East. We’re not going to be invaded by Afghanistan, and have no business being there. Andrew Basevich would be a fine choice as a replacement for Mr. Gates, and perhaps he, or someone like him, would finally begin to make some major, necessary cuts – if we’re really serious about this deficit thing – not in social programs, which make up a tiny proportion of the federal budget, but in the defense budget. As Gary Hart has quite correctly pointed out, it makes little sense to have the most extensive military presence on the planet if there’s nothing to protect at home.

    Republicans have no useful ideas at the national level, and have become the “Party of No” because they don’t have an alternative. We need to get some things done, and they’d rather score points than provide for the common welfare. No civilization can survive by practicing the “philosophy” of Ayn Rand.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/11/2010 - 10:30 pm.

    Ray, don’t give those folks too much credit. What’s bleeding our government dry is the entitlement programs geared towards the elderly (who are Republican/Tea-Party leaning voters) and the defense budget.

    Even if you cut all government programs that can be described as welfare, such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Medicaid, and food stamps (and the National Endowment for the Arts, just for fun), you barely make a dent in the budget deficit. The people complaining that welfare spending is causing the budget deficit are quite literally incapable of math. Simply the increase in defense spending alone since 2000 dwarfs our total welfare spending.

    Reasonable people can disagree on the relative amount of tax cuts vs. spending cuts necessary to eliminate the budget deficit. However, the belief that government spending on illegal immigrants and the chronically unemployed is bankrupting America is idiotic. I have no patience for people who honestly think that government programs totaling less than $200 billion are to blame for deficits over $1.3 trillion.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/12/2010 - 11:22 am.

    Thanks for your comments 6 and 7, Messrs. Schoch and Schulze.

    To this discussion and others on today’s America and the tendency of many to believe whatever they hear, John LeCarre had this to say in a discussion of corporate power (and how he uses it in his fiction) on Democracy Now, Monday morning, October 11, from London:

    “I remain terrified of the capacity of the media, the capacity of spin doctors, here and abroad, particularly the United States media, to perpetuate false lies, perpetuate lies. …

    “I worry terribly that the absence of serious critical argument is going to produce a new kind of fanaticism, the new simplicities that are as dangerous as the ones that caused us to march against Iraq and as misunderstood.”

    It’s good to read “serious critical argument” right here at MinnPost.

    The hour-long interview can be viewed or read at http://www.democracynow.org.

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