It’s where married life and politics intersect – and every guy who is married, or has been married, or even been in a relationship, knows how it goes. The wife is crying and the husband is obviously concerned, and puzzled. What happened? What is going on? So he asks – logical enough – but only gets more tears. So he slows down and asks again. Was it something he did? And he gets more tears, and then anger. He’s told he should know, and if he has to ask, well, then he just doesn’t get it. How could he be so insensitive, and have done what he did? But what did he do? Well, he’s not getting an answer. The wife clams up. If he has to be told he’s hopeless. So, upset, he reviews the last twenty-four hours, the last week, the last month. Was it this? Was it that? He’s told no, it wasn’t any of that at all. That stumps him, and he knows the words that come next. How COULD you? How could I what? How could you not KNOW what?
And so it goes. The only way out is a generalized blanket apology for all transgressions past, present and future, actual or hypothetical or inadvertent. And then there might be a grudging acceptance of that apology, or not, along with being told he’s both weak and stupid, as he’s obviously just covering his ass. But he will obviously be on his best behavior from now on, anticipating what he doesn’t know or understand, and may never know, making sure, somehow, he doesn’t do whatever it is he doesn’t realize he’s doing. He’ll spend his life on edge. Game, set and match.
Of course he could go the other way. Guess what, honey? This is what I did, and this is why I did it, and I’d do it again – so deal with it. And if it’s something else that’s the problem, tell me – if not, I’ll be in the other room watching the hockey game. That works too, followed by the divorce, because, she says, he obviously doesn’t give a damn what she thinks and is just a selfish brute.
Married men tend to drink heavily. But this is where married life and politics intersect – the Republicans are now doing the same sort of number on the Democrats. For example, John Dickerson points out in this item that during the House debate over financial services reform, Mike Pence, the Republican conference chairman, said this of the Democrats – “When you look at this legislation, it is proof positive again that this majority just doesn’t get it.” They are the majority. But the minority gets it. And Dickerson notes that in Arizona, backers of the state’s nasty new immigration law are selling t-shirts that display this – “The President Just Doesn’t Get It.” He’s hopeless, obviously. And when the Justice Department announced Tuesday that it would file suit to overturn the law, Representative Harry Mitchell of Arizona said this – “The only thing this lawsuit will do is demonstrate to Arizonans that Washington still doesn’t get it.” And of course both McCain and Palin campaigned on the same sort of thing – Obama and Biden just don’t get it, whatever it is. Only those who are Real Americans get it. And if you asked them what this it was, well, you too were hopeless. How could you not KNOW what it was? If you had to ask the question you obviously weren’t a Real American. Joe the Plumber could never quite explain what his problem with Obama was, really, given the actual facts on who would be paying what taxes were Obama to be elected. But it didn’t matter – he got it, whatever it was. And if you have to ask, well – never mind, you’re hopeless.
It’s a neat trick, and probably explains why, after that embarrassing interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson and that disastrous interview with ABC’s Katie Couric, Sarah Palin gave no more interviews, save for that one with Glenn Beck, where even he was appalled. When Glenn Beck calls your answer “bullcrap” it’s time to pack it in.
But why should she answer questions? That is not how it works – answering questions is just so lame. You either get it or you don’t. Why should she explain herself? Real Americans get it, and those who don’t should go back where they came from – New York or Boston or Hollywood or wherever.
Many of us had that shock of recognition. Damn, it was like being married again. And of course the object, now that McCain and Palin lost the election rather convincingly, is to get the Democrats to be on their best behavior from now on, anticipating what they don’t know or understand, and may never know, making sure, somehow, they don’t do whatever it is they don’t realize they’re doing. They’ll spend their life on edge. Cool. You just make them understand, and make others understand, that the Democrats just don’t get it. And you don’t even have to cry.
And it seems this is the way it will be, with David Vitter of Louisiana popping up and formally filing his re-election documents, so he can remain one of that state’s two senators. You remember him – that prostitution scandal where it seems he was a regular with both the DC Madam and the Canal Street Madam, and more than a bit kinky, and, caught dead to rights, confessed and said he would sin no more and all the rest. His party shrugged. Louisiana shrugged. At least he wasn’t gay. At least he wasn’t a Democrat. And they’ll reelect him easily.
But Steve Benen in this item points out an odd thing. In the campaign email Vitter sent to supporters around the time of the filing, which was mostly boilerplate, one portion stood out for Benen:
The big government, big spending left crowd is wounded and scared. That’s why they are doing everything they can to get their loyalists elected.
As all of you know, I’m certainly not one of those loyalists. In fact, one of my greatest strengths has been as a fighter for Louisiana families. And it’s clear that that fighting spirit and effectiveness is needed now more than ever.
President Obama and his allies are out to steal our country. And the question for every candidate this year is: whose side are you on?
Putting aside the obvious cracks about Vitter fighting for “Louisiana families” – when a right-wing senator caught with prostitutes mentions the importance of families, he’s asking for trouble – it was disconcerting to see a sitting senator suggest the president and his supporters are trying to “steal our country.”
Who gets to be included in Vitter’s “our”? Who does Vitter think the country is being stolen from, exactly?
Do you need to ask, really? It seems Benen does:
These need not be considered rhetorical questions. The duly-elected president and the duly-elected Congress are trying to implement the policy agenda they promised voters to pursue. Vitter can disagree, and he can even engage in scandalous and unprecedented obstructionism to prevent the majority from governing during a crisis, but how does he arrive at the conclusion that America’s elected leadership is trying to “steal our country”?
As above – you can go the other way. Guess what? This is what we did – the stimulus package, healthcare reform, suspending drilling in the Gulf, the new arms treaty with Russia, Sotomayor and Kagan to the Supreme Court and so on – and this is why we did it, and we’d do it again – so deal with it. And if it’s something else that’s the problem, tell us – if not, we’ll be in the other room doing other things to clean up the mess your man, George Bush, left behind. And by the way, we won the election. You guys didn’t.
Yep, you can go that way, but of course Democrats seldom do, as they fear that those hypothetical Real Americans – the ones not in cities, even small cities, or on the coasts, or with more than a high school education and who are not black or brown or yellow – will be very, very angry. And you know what they’d say – obviously Obama and the Democrats don’t give a damn what anyone thinks and are just selfish brutes. And that is what they did. Beck calls Obama a tyrant, Hitler and Stalin and Doris Umbridge combined, and Johah Goldberg writes that book Liberal Fascism. Everyone laughs at Goldberg’s book, but Real Americans don’t. And Democrats, like the befuddled husband, always apologize and say really, whatever it was, it wasn’t THAT bad. And they water down whatever they intended to do – let the cartel of the five giant for-profit insurance companies corner the market and make sure they make a ton of money – so no one will say mean things. And then they’ll be told they’re both weak and stupid, as obviously just covering their collective ass. And if things work out right, they’ll be tossed out of office – the divorce.
Sometimes you feel like James Dean in that Rebel without a Cause movie – “If he had guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy and then she’d stop picking on him. Because they make mush out of him! Just mush!”
But that’s just how it is. Democrats do that Jim Backus befuddled-father thing, over and over. But of course families are difficult, or are for those who have to deal with clever manipulation. And a side note on Vitter – ABC News did some digging and it seems that Vitter knowingly kept his aide Brent Furer on his taxpayer financed payroll, despite Furer having held his ex-girlfriend hostage, threatening to kill her, and stabbing her with a knife on her hand and neck. Vitter was aware of Furer’s problems, but, as ABC reports, he nevertheless paid Furer to oversee women’s issues for the senator’s office. And Furer had also been arrested on four other occasions – three times for DUI, and once for cocaine possession – and remains wanted on an open warrant. Still, Obama is trying to steal Vitter’s country. Go figure.
Still, the Dickerson item is interesting – because it’s on both sides saying the other side doesn’t get it – with the Democrats now saying that Republican leaders in Washington just don’t get it. President Obama said that after the Republican senators voted to block an extension of unemployment benefits, again. And needless to say, Paul Krugman has been saying the same thing in the New York Times – “We’re facing a coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused.”
But Dickerson notes everyone is unhappy:
Voters are angry this election year. A recent Washington Post poll showed that only 29 percent of Americans said they would support their House representative in November, even lower than before the historic 1994 election. Politicians who claim their opponents “don’t get it” hope to stoke that anger into rage: The politician disappointing you does so not because he’s incompetent, but because he doesn’t care what you say. This is the animating sentiment behind the Tea Party movement. “The government doesn’t want to hear us,” said one protester at an Obama health care rally in Iowa earlier this year in the final days of the health care debate. “We have to make them listen.”
But, much like the marital problem – where the one refuses to say what the problem is and the other cannot imagine what their spouse thinks the problem is – this may be about nothing at all:
Both sides are focusing on highlighting just how bad the other party is in part because they can’t satisfy voter anger by talking about solutions. People aren’t in a mood to believe in promises from Washington. And, for different reasons, neither party has much to say. Democrats can’t excite people with the programs they’ve passed. Only 33 percent of those asked in a recent Pew poll think the stimulus bill has helped create jobs. Health care reform is getting more popular, but even in the most optimistic polls, less than 50 percent of respondents view it favorably. Republicans aren’t offering detailed solutions because they have made a tactical decision to stay vague about what they would actually do if they took control. They don’t want to offend anyone, and they’d prefer this election be a referendum on unpopular Democratic programs.
And then Dickerson asks the key question much like the question the befuddled husband asks the universe, but he makes it political. If the husband is not allowed to know what the problem is, then, if politicians can’t recognize problems, how can they solve them?
That question was at the center of the charge Obama made last week in Wisconsin when he criticized House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, for seeming to compare the financial crisis to an insect. “If the Republican leader is that out of touch with the struggles facing the American people, he should come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant.” Those who aren’t out of touch don’t hear you because they are compromised. When the Senate was debating a version of the financial reform bill, the president charged that the Senate Republican leader was ignoring the obvious benefits of the legislation because he was beholden to the Wall Street bankers he was courting for campaign donations.
So it’s simple. Democrats charge willful incompetence. Republicans blame arrogance.
For months, Republican leaders have peppered their public statements on a range of issues with the charge that the president and Democratic leaders are so ideological they are deaf to the outcry from the public. “Americans want us to listen to them on health care,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., during the health care debate. “They’ve been telling us so for an entire year. Incredibly, our friends on the other side still don’t seem to get it. But Americans see what’s going on. And that’s why they’ll reject this bill again.”
And there you have it – the Democrats just don’t get it – no one wanted healthcare reform and no one wants it now – all the polls were wrong – the Democrats, and Obama, ran on that, and got elected, and obviously more people voted for them than for McCain and Palin, but those who voted that way weren’t the real majority – because if you get it you know the majority of Real Americans, the only ones who count, wanted no such thing, and want no such thing. Why don’t the Democrats see that? And damn, it’s like being married.
But Dickerson argues it’s more complicated than that:
Obama has given his opponents ammunition. On issues from stimulus to health care to his handling of the BP oil spill, he and his aides have blamed their problems on poor communication. “He seems to think we just don’t understand what’s going on because he hasn’t had the chance – in his 411 speeches and 158 interviews last year – to adequately explain his policies to us,” Sarah Palin wrote during the health care debate. “Instead of sensibly telling the American people, ‘I’m listening,’ the president is saying, ‘Listen up, people!’ This approach is precisely the reason people are upset with Washington.”
When politicians aren’t accusing their opponents of not listening, they are trying hard to show how much they themselves are. After Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat last winter, Obama made “I hear you” the theme of his State of the Union address. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., is credited with reviving her candidacy after airing an ad in which she professed that she was listening. “I’m Blanche Lincoln, and I know you’re angry at Washington. Believe me, I heard you.”
Have you ever been in marriage counseling? He doesn’t listen to me! She doesn’t listen to me! It’s the same sort of thing.
And Dickerson goes on to discuss the Republicans’ new and quite odd listening exercise – America Speaking Out. The idea is to solicit ideas from voters that will “inform” the future Republican agenda:
By hearing from the people, Boehner promises, Republicans will “change the way Washington works.” The theory underlying the Republican position is that if something isn’t popular, the president shouldn’t be doing it. Boehner has taken this view one step further. When debating whether the stimulus bill has worked, he has cited not the number of jobs created, but public opinion polls that show people don’t like it.
But as Steve Benen pointed out, Boehner seems to be using this listening exercise to avoid being specific on policy. Actually, it’s a way of saying, well folks, we have no ideas – none at all – so send us what you’ve got, as we’re running on empty. And Dickerson the change this is:
This view is a complete reversal from what was once the prevailing Republican view of leadership. During the Bush presidency, public opposition to the war didn’t matter. As Dick Cheney put it: “It may not be popular with the public – it doesn’t matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not running for office. We’re doing what we think is right.”
This was also true of domestic affairs during the Bush era. When the president launched his plan to create Social Security private accounts, he cited the idea’s unpopularity as one of its virtues. “That’s why we run for office,” Bush said in a 2005 speech about the political opposition he faced. (Only 35 percent of Americans approved of the plan at the time.) “Someone said, ‘It’s a steep hill to climb, Mr. President.’ Well, my attitude is, the steeper, the better – because when you get up top, you realize you have left a significant contribution behind.”
And now, in a way, Obama is Bush. Of course Bush’s strange Social Security notions were opposed by two-thirds of most everybody at the time, and it’s sort of the same thing, maybe. Still, Obama persists in doing what Real Americans – that thirty-three percent or so who say they are Real Americans and some sort of more real than the real majority – do not want done. They want to take their country back from the sixty-seven percent fake majority, those who just don’t get it. Obama is a usurper and a tyrant.
Yes, the whole notion of what a majority is has changed – in the Senate it’s sixty of the one hundred votes now, not fifty one. Mitch McConnell once suggested a Senate majority should really be eight-five of the one hundred votes or some such thing. It’s hard to remember. The whole notion of majority keeps shifting. And see Krugman on what happened when the Polish parliament started messing around with the notion of what a majority should be:
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.
Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.
Well, we’re not quite there yet. We’re just in the early stages, where everyone says the other guy just doesn’t get it, and also feels that they really should not have to say what that “it” is, as everyone just knows. And every politician’s fortune is now linked to his ability to “hear” the public. But just who is this public is uncertain – it’s the majority, or it’s the thirty-three percent that is the real majority, or it’s the one woman with conscience, the one from Alaska, or it’s the test audience in Pomona for the new Paramount teen-vampire movie, or someone. But you had better listen.
But it doesn’t matter. You’ll be told that you just don’t get it, and it’s insulting to have to explain it to you, as you should have know it, but then, of course, you’re too insensitive to even understand, so what’s the point? But you’d better change your ways. But we’re not telling you how to change your ways, because you should already know how – or you would know how if you weren’t so weak and stupid and always apologizing for what you don’t even understand you’ve done.
Yep, it’s a lot like being married. But you get used to it.