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.”