Our National Bad Mood

The national mood is sour – everyone knows that, or is told they know that.

Just look at the polls:

A pair of major national polls has a mixed bag of findings for Republicans and Democrats, but a common denominator is that at least 6 of 10 likely voters think the country is on the wrong track, almost as many disapprove of the jobs that congressional lawmakers in both parties are doing, and most do not believe a victory by either party will improve their financial situations.

The rest of this Politics Daily item goes into the details, if that matters. Of course there is an amusing bit on how, if Democrats were hoping “to cast House Minority Leader John Boehner as the Republican bogeyman in the election” they’re out of luck. One of the two polls show that forty-five percent of voters never heard of him. They have no idea who he is. And, if you ask Republicans who right now best represents what their party stands for, the numbers are odd – Palin tops the list at six percent, there’s McCain at five percent, Newt Gingrich at four percent and Boehner at three percent. There’s no one at home to answer the knock on the door. As for Palin, her unfavorability ratings hit a new high – now forty-six percent see her as a bit of an irritating and self-serving idiot. About twenty-one percent view her favorably. Everyone else just doesn’t much care.

Yes, most national polls show Republicans with a generic-ballot edge in the upcoming midterms, but Politico’s poll shows the parties tied. But that generic-ballot stuff is useless. Would you be more inclined to vote for a Democrat, or a Republican? You may have your preference, but then each party puts up an actual candidate – a living, breathing person. That changes things. Some Republicans have no use of the likes of Christine O’Donnell or Rand Paul, and some Democrats find Charlie Rangel or Alan Grayson a bit embarrassing. After all, long ago it was hard to get behind the sublimely unaware Hubert Humphrey. The actual candidate matters. The generic-ballot question is silly.

And maybe the whole idea of the national mood is silly. Of course the national mood matters to politicians – guess it wrong and you lose. Hubert Humphrey called himself the Happy Warrior. No one shared his happiness – when he ran for president the dour Nixon cleaned his clock. Jimmy Carter offered his observations on our national malaise in 1979 – the crisis in confidence he was sure we could overcome. He may have been right, but no one wanted to hear about it. Reagan said he found no evidence of any such thing. People wanted to hear that. Reagan won easily. Clinton got it right. It’s the economy, stupid. That was a good read of the national mood. Clinton may have been half goofball and half wonk but in the end that didn’t matter. He rode the national mood of economic anxiety to two terms in office. And the younger Bush did the same sort of thing, even if unwittingly. The nation seemed to be ready for a nasty smart-alecky frat boy, with a fundamentalist evangelical intolerance of most everything, who, when confronted with complex difficulties, simply sneered at others. And after 9/11 that worked even better. And Obama rode the backlash to that, when it became apparent that sneering wasn’t a sound basis for domestic or foreign policy, or the whole of your policy. Polite decency and inclusiveness, and thoughtfulness, suddenly seemed like a good idea. Yes, that window closed quickly – but it worked for a few months at the end of one key year.

But how does anyone know the national mood? With the rise of twenty-four hour cable news there is now no end of people telling us all about the national mood. On Fox News you’ll be told everyone hates Obama – and Pelosi and the rest of the tax-and-spend Democrats who are ruining our country. They’ll tell you everyone knows that. It’s obvious. And on MSNBC you’ll see that the Republicans are the heartless Party of No, willing to bring down the nation just to get back in power – and that their Tea Party cohorts are a bit nuts. It’s obvious. CNN will trot out people on both sides and have them argue with each other, and then declare that all that the shouting back and forth was certainly interesting, and then cut to commercial. And over on CNBC Larry Kudlow will continue to say the nation is in awe of its multimillionaires and would rather pay sky-high taxes than have them be taxed much at all, because Ayn Rand wrote the Constitution or some such thing. You could – were you weird – spend the day watching all this stuff. And you’d have no idea what the national mood is. Does everyone hate Hispanics and gays and Muslim-Americans, and want only the little people to pay taxes, and really, really, really want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare and unemployment insurance and welfare of any kind? That depends on who you ask – or really, on whom you watch. But you get the same thing on talk radio. Drive around LA and you find Rush Limbaugh on the low end of the dial and Randi Rhodes on the high end – so you punch the FM button and listen to Beach Boys tunes on the oldies station. If there’s a national mood you won’t hear about it from media stars in studios in Manhattan or Miami. They don’t get out much. What do they know?

And the news itself is puzzling, like the Senate passing this:

The Senate on Thursday approved a multi-billion dollar package of tax breaks and government-backed loans for small businesses, as Democrats surmounted months of opposition by Republican leaders. Backers say the bill could spur business growth and new hiring.

“Small businesses are the major job creators in our economy, and this legislation will ensure that our small businesses have the tax incentives and credit they need to expand and hire,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California.

After breaking a Republican filibuster two days earlier, the thing passed 61 to 38 – and every member of the Senate Democratic caucus voted for it, and every member of the Senate Republican caucus opposed it, except for Ohio’s George Voinovich and Florida’s George LeMieux. So it goes to the House, gets passed there easily, and will be sent Obama, who’s been demanding the bill for months.

Steve Benen comments:

The basis for near-unanimous opposition to the legislation was … well, I’m still not sure what Republicans were thinking. We’re talking about a bill with tax incentives for small businesses and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks. The bill, which is fully paid for, was finished and ready to go in July, arguably even June.

He points out that there were all kinds of small businesses that “put hiring, supply buying and real estate expansion on hold” – just waiting for the Senate to act. But it wasn’t that easy:

Republicans didn’t want the Senate to act. For reasons that remain a mystery, the GOP fought to delay passage, then fought it again with a filibuster, then fought it again even when final passage was assured. For all their talk about small businesses needing relief, Republicans – including the alleged “moderates” (Snowe, Collins, and Brown) – spent most of the summer trying to kill a bill to help small businesses.

Voinovich, in refreshing candor, acknowledged last week that his Republican colleagues were, in fact, playing petty games, as part of a larger political “messaging” effort. Now, the Ohio senator believes, “we don’t have time anymore” for the partisan gamesmanship.

In other words, according to a senior GOP senator, his Republican Party delayed progress on a worthwhile economic bill – on purpose – as part of an election-season scheme. Businesses that could have aided economic expansion months ago were delayed because the GOP had a “messaging” strategy in mind.

And he adds this:

If our political system made more sense, this would be a huge national scandal that would force Republicans onto the defensive seven weeks before the midterms.

But the Republicans were reading the national mood – no one wants the government to do anything at all. They’ve had enough of government. At least that’s what they were told about the national mood. Perhaps they thought the twenty-one percent who think Sarah Plain is nifty and smart and wonderful represent the national mood. Fox News told them so. That happens when you don’t get out much.

And Benen also notes that a few months ago Glenn Beck launched that odd crusade – against houses of worship that make a commitment to “social justice.” Beck said that’s “code” for “Marxism.” If your church uses those two words together in that order run the other way as fast as you can. Jesus hated the whole idea of social justice, you see.

That was odd, but now fear of “social justice” is spreading in conservative circles:

A top Republican on financial issues said Thursday he was concerned that Elizabeth Warren would use a position in a new consumer protection agency to promote “social justice.”

Gregg, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Banking Committee, expressed dismay at President Obama’s decision to tap Warren as a key “adviser” to help set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency established in the Wall Street reform bill.

“My concern is that she would use the agency for the purpose of promoting social justice,” Gregg said on ABC’s “Top Line” webcast.

And Benen is puzzled:

Maybe someone can remind me – what’s so bad about social justice?

In this context, I suspect Gregg is talking about Warren’s career protecting the rights and interests of consumers. She’s developed a well-deserved reputation for going after abusive corporate practices – shining a bright light, for example, on deceptive and unfair lending practices – and looking out for the kind of families conservative Republicans prefer to ignore.

If “social justice” means a commitment to those who too often fall victim to abuses and corporate irresponsibility, don’t we want more officials interested in “social justice,” not fewer?

Well, if Beck represents the national mood, no we don’t. This national mood stuff is tricky. It seems seventeen percent of Americans think he’s spot-on with this stuff:

“Beck’s favorability is highest among Republicans (55%), white evangelical Protestants (48%), and Americans 65 and over (37%); but even among those with a favorable opinion of him, less than half (45%) think he is the right person to lead a religious movement,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

But Beck says everyone agrees with him. Who are you going to believe?

There’s an answer to that. Get out more. And Time’s Joe Klein goes on the road:

Ten days into my cross-country road trip and I’m not finding much of the fist-shaking, Tea Party anger that you see on television. People are freaked out, though. They’re frustrated and anxious. They’re not too thrilled with Barack Obama’s policies – although even his detractors see him as sincere and trying his best to turn things around – and they’re not at all convinced that the Republicans are prepared to offer anything better, but the anti-incumbent, anti-Establishment mood is palpable. They can diagnose the problems, but they don’t have any strong ideas about solutions.

Maybe the national mood is in a general funk:

Most of the people at brunch say the government is spending too much, but when I ask whether they’d rather see the government closing the deficit or spending money to create jobs, most of them say jobs. There are ideological contradictions aplenty, which leads me to conclude that the notion of America as a conservative or moderate or liberal country is a fiction created by those of us who sit on top of Mount Opinion. More than a few voters I’ve met seem to be conservative, moderate and liberal all at once.

Maybe you can’t actually see much from Mount Opinion:

Introspection seems the order of the day.

And as for the Tea Party crowd, Glenn Greenwald asks a simple question:

I’d really like to hear what it is about Christine O’Donnell, or Sharron Angle, or any of these other candidates that sets them apart from decades of radical right-wing elected officials who came before them?

And Andrew Sullivan answers the question:

I think what the tea-partiers would say is that they are for real – that, unlike Bush, they won’t spend the country into oblivion, that they won’t bail out the banks, that they won’t pass unpaid-for entitlements, that they actually will make sure that abortion is illegal, that they will round up illegal immigrants and enforce the border, and will not pretend that we are not fighting Islam in a civilizational war. And that they will refuse to raise taxes even if it means the most radical dismantlement of the entitlement state since the New Deal.

Now you can argue that this kind of extremism was always part of the picture, but the Rove method was to use these convictions, not actually share them. Bush increased spending radically, added a huge unpaid entitlement to the next generation, pandered to Hispanics, favored immigration reform, did nothing to prevent legal abortion, felt awkward demonizing gays, pretended he wasn’t torturing prisoners, did not kill enough Iraqis, and made a major point about not having a fight with Islam as such. The base wants to get rid of any of these nuances and get the real thing.

It isn’t class snobbery. It’s the difference between those who use far right convictions and those who actually hold them. That’s why Palin’s chief campaign tool was a Down Syndrome child. It proved that she was serious about banning all abortion because, unlike Rove, she really believes it is murder. It’s authenticity. And once unleashed, it’s very hard to stop.

But is it the national mood? Does your opinion become the National Mood because you are so deadly serious and never compromise and feel what you feel so very strongly? Things don’t work that way.

And in terms of economic issues, William Voegeli writes this:

A growing cohort of critics has already begun writing obituaries for the republic, arguing that our fundamental problem is not that we don’t have a government as good as our people, but that we do. We’re sinking beneath the waves, in other words, because Americans are implacable children who demand an extensive welfare state and low taxes, and refuse to acknowledge that the two are irreconcilable…

But maybe that’s not true. Too few politicians have treated Americans as adults, capable of realizing that our social insurance system cannot, over the long haul, confer more in benefits than it secures through taxes… Leaders worthy of the name must find the language that will make their fellow citizens understand the dimensions and urgency of the fiscal crisis. If their statesmanship is repudiated by voters who demand both New York City’s social welfare system and Idaho’s tax structure, then we’ll have a compelling empirical basis for predicting what the collapse of the American experiment in self-government will look like. We should not conclude that a government of grown-ups, by grown-ups, and for grown-ups will perish from the earth, however, until we’ve made strenuous efforts to re-establish it.

Andrew Sullivan says good luck with that:

Increasingly, the GOP’s thought leaders aren’t politicians, but highly paid entertainers. Can “leaders worthy of the name” emerge with Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck calling the shots? And you think Pelosi could do such a thing? Or Reid?

And Sullivan points to this attempt to get at the substance of the O’Donnell campaign in Delaware that comes to this conclusion:

One way of interpreting O’Donnell’s upset victory is as a sign that insane anti-masturbators are emerging from America’s fever swamps and marching toward Capitol Hill, ready to sic ex-gay-ministry counselors on Barney Frank in the unlikely event they can get past Democrats on Nov. 2. And maybe that’s true. But I might propose an alternate way of looking at it: Anti-spending and anti-establishment sentiment is running so strong right now that even an obviously flawed, possibly nutsoid political neophyte looks better to a lot of people than just another TARP supporter.

Sullivan despairs:

Does even the most devoted libertarian really believe that any responsible president of any party would not have tried to save the economy from a total financial meltdown? Do they recall that the Congress initially did turn it down and then changed its mind? And would it be possible for them to acknowledge that the bank bailout seems to have been far more successful than almost anyone believed at the time?

He calls this an utter disengagement “with, you know, political reality.” But that’s the national mood – disengaged from reality. Or there are many realities, and too many national moods. There was this news from Pew Research:

Only a third of Americans (34%) correctly say the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was enacted by the Bush administration. Nearly half (47%) incorrectly believe TARP was passed under President Obama. Another 19% admit they do not know which president signed the bank bailout into law. Notably, there is no partisan divide on the question.

The national mood – deep anger at Obama – is sometimes based on nonsense:

For the record, the financial industry bailout passed in October 2008. It was requested by a conservative Republican administration (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney). It was enthusiastically endorsed by the House Republican leadership (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Roy Blunt), the Senate Republican leadership (Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl), both members of the Republican presidential ticket (John McCain and Sarah Palin), and assorted, high-profile conservative voices (Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck).

Yeah, well – whatever. And from now until November it will be dispatches from Mount Opinion. THIS is how people REALLY feel. And most of it will be nonsense. But we’ve decided that this country will be governed on how people really feel, even if they feel one way or another about this or that because they got the facts wrong.

Did you ever find yourself in an argument with someone who said, well, I really don’t know why I feel this way, and I hear you say I have the facts wrong here, but I really feel this way, very strongly, and nothing will change my mind? They’ve been listening to the remote gods on Mount Opinion. Welcome to America.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Our National Bad Mood

  1. Benito says:

    The Republicans are so funny, when the economy is good you say let’s all celebrate “Cinco de Mayo, my brothers” but when the economy is down “it’s all your fault, you damn immigrant”. When most Americans (with Latin America roots) go to the polls this November we will remember that the GOP has gone on a nationwide rant in proposing and passing several anti-immigration legislation (that our US Courts continue to strike down) and have continue to blame the immigrant for the flat economy or worse. We will remember who stands with us and who stands against us, so trying to stop it now is somewhat funny, but go ahead, you will not change our minds. Plus the more radical of the GOP are now attacking our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, in a misguided attempt to garner some much needed votes, they really are fools, and leading the GOP towards obscurity because they are no longer a party of ideas, just of empty suits. Your hate made you do it, in November; you will reap what you have sown. I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would say about todays GOP, he unlike the current GOP was a man of ideas.

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