Friday, September 17, 2010

Average Americans and America's Problems

Decades ago a prominent historian noted that we have contradictory attitudes about the great mass of the American people. On the one hand, we think of them as gifted with common sense, full of practical wisdom, fair-minded, and of sound character, who--given all the facts and sufficient time-- usually make reasonable political decisions. On the other hand, we see them as driven by emotion, short on knowledge, subject to demagogic appeals, and capable of great mischief in the voting booth. I confess that both of these conceptions are resident within me.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that at the moment the latter, less flattering posture dominates. Tea Party success is only the beginning. Voters are angry with incumbents, the government, the direction the country is going, and are in an ugly, rebellious mood. However, this outlook is generating something less than a rational, effective political response. Folks don't know, don't believe, or have forgotten that the consensus of economic experts and knowledgeable analysts  was that, while the bailout of banks was regrettable and distasteful, it was necessary to rescue the economy from disaster. It was done primarily not because the  elite bankers were worthy but in order to save the rest of us as well. The hole was in their end of the boat, but all of us would have drowned if the ship had gone down. But the outrage in the guts of the masses--for good reasons from a limited perspective (theirs)--expresses the feeling that we had a bailout for Wall Street but not for Main Street.

The deficit is widely decried, but it may be impossible to rescind the Bush tax cuts  that disproportionately benefit the rich and super-rich, although their continuation would  would greatly  increase the deficit over time and would not generate the kind of economic growth defenders claim.

Have people forgotten that under Bush two wars were started and put on a credit card? The same was true of the prescription drug bill for seniors. All these contributed mightily to the deficit Republicans now scream about.

Voters prefer Democrats and their economic policies to Republicans and their economic policies but say they they will vote for Republican candidates this fall.

An article in a political journal today warns us not to underestimate the vote-getting power of Christine O'Donnell because she comes across as an "average American!"

An Illinois Senator years ago said that his constituents want lower taxes and greater benefits. So far as I know, this is still true of voters.

We could go with this listing of examples that do not commend the rationality and virtue of the masses in our present context, but let us move on.

Apparently voters think that if the players are replaced, things will get better. Depending on  the replacements, there may be a grain of truth in this. But the deeper, more intractable reality is that the political system is tainted with corruption. Wealthy corporations and the rich generally have far too much influence.  Out of necessity for reelection purposes, members of Congress lust for money and prostitute themselves to get it. Powerful lobbies, often representing parochial interests inimical to the common good,  e. g., the NRA, shape legislation, inordinately charm regulatory agencies into furthering their interests, and threaten and cajole legislators into doing their bidding. Yet the great masses show no inclination to support the fundamental transformation of the political system that justice and their own economic interests require. People rightly vote their values too, but some of them--like the attitude toward gay and transgendered people--are reactionary and stubbornly resistant to progressive change.

Witness the fact that although presidents since the time of Teddy Roosevelt  have advocated universal health insurance, only this year was this goal nearly accomplished and only in a deeply flawed manner at that.
A one-payer system--some kind of Medicare for all that would be the most efficient and effective way to assure coverage for all--is nowhere in sight.

Oh practical, fair-minded, wise, reasonable, virtuous masses, where are you when you are so badly needed.

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