by Linda Beale
The elections got me down. I must admit that I am truly puzzled by the American electorate–that is, the very small slice of American voters that actually makes it to the polls and votes. We know that many of the right-wing efforts at voter repression –claimed as necessary to deal with non-existent voter fraud– have succeeded. By limiting days for early voting, making registration more difficult, requiring government photo IDs and similar ploys, many people (especially minorities and young people more likely to vote Democratic) simply aren’t able to vote. But that doesn’t account for the huge numbers of people who don’t bother to vote to prevent wacky right-wingers like Iowa GOP Senator-Elect Joni Ernst (who declared to the NRA that Americans might just have to exercise those “Second Amendment remedies”–i.e., assassinate some government officials that she/they don’t like????) from getting into a position of power.
I think some of the result reflects lingering racism. The GOP successfully turned the midterm election into a vote on Obama, and there are an awful lot of white Americans who still resent having an African American in the White House. But that surely doesn’t account for all of it.
It also reflects the influence of Koch Brother money spreading falsehoods and misleading assertions about the economy, and American voters’ being seduced by them. What kind of falsehoods? That the wealthy are the “job creators”. That corporations shouldn’t have to pay taxes at all. That the IRS is out to get Republicans and Christians. That the Affordable Care Act is a piece of socialist legislation that is harming ordinary Americans. and on and on.
It also demonstrates the reality of the economic realities among American voters and our tendency to vote against whoever seems to be in control (the President’s party) when our individual lives aren’t faring well. Part of the problem, then, is the fact that middle and lower-class Americans are treading water while the economic recovery is mostly being enjoyed by the rich who own the stock and other financial assets that have completely recovered from the financial recession. People know they still haven’t gotten fully back on their feet, and they blame the Democrats who are in the White House and hope, pollyannaish, that the other party will be able to make things better. Not logic, just unhappiness.
But there’s a broader problem of economic ignorance that characterizes many American voters. We see groups of seniors spewing anti-government venom and yelling “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare”, seemingly unaware that it is in fact the government that makes Medicare possible. We see claims that the health reform act is costing ordinary Americans, yet in fact many uninsured Americans now have insurance, and young adults are still covered on their parent’s policies, and pre-existing conditions are no longer a way insurers use to keep people off their policies. It’s the same problem demonstrated by those surveys where ordinary middle income Americans think they are in the upper 20% of the income distribution or that they who make less than $75,000 a year will have to be an estate tax or believe that income is in fact fairly proportionately distributed across the population, rather than being hogged by the 1% at the top of the income distribution.
But ultimately, I think a big piece of the blame goes to Democratic politicians who didn’t have the guts to stand up and talk frankly with the American people about both the good and the bad. Democrats ran from Obama rather than embracing the good things he has done and noting the things they disagree with. Most Democrats were afraid to be open and genuine about the things they care about. The same thing happened when the Republicans under George Bush pushed through the ridiculous tax cuts with enormous benefits for the wealthy, including significant reduction (they tried for elimination) of the estate tax to which only the affluent are subject. Democrats went along and were unwilling to help inform Americans about the problems with the capital gains preference and the reduction of the estate tax. Similarly, in this election, Democrats seemed to run away from progressive ideas and try to mimic the right-wing talking machine. That never succeeds, and you’d think they would realize that by now.
The Detroit Free Press ran a letter a few days back from a Canadian who was perplexed at the ability of Americans to vote against interest. Here’s the letter, which speaks for itself.
Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there’s no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money. Obama is in for a rough ride with Congress under Republican control America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden. So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason. When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way? Richard Brunt Victoria, British Columbia Detroit Free Press, Nov. 10, 2010