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So What Happened On Tuesday? November 4, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, ethics of care, politics.
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The short answer is that lots of people lost their homes, their jobs, and their security for the future. The Democrats promised to give them some relief and they didn’t deliver—the public resents that. Since there is only one other party on offer, they chose Republicans.

People who feel resentful are not inclined to coolly assimilate the fact that Democrats made things less worse or that Republican free market radicalism cost them their well-being in the first place. The attention span of American voters can be measured in minutes. If nothing else, the GOP has proven that if you are going to fail, fail so spectacularly that the other team can’t fix it in the short run.

Here are a few facts that the majority of the voting public apparently don’t know:

We now have a health care system that insures thirty million more Americans than were insured before Obama took office, substantial tax cuts for middle-class Americans, a bailout of Wall St. from which the public will make a profit, a massive economic stimulus that saved millions of jobs, and an economy that has grown for the past four quarters. The calamitous job losses that characterized the end of the Bush Administration have ended and corporate profits are again on the rise.

But a recent poll shows that by a margin of two-to-one, those most likely to vote believe taxes have increased, the economy has shrunk, and the billions of dollars of bailout money will never be recovered.

As usual, Democrats made the mistake of thinking that if they play fair and do a competent job of managing the bureaucracy and the policy apparatus of government, the public will reward them with approval. But the voting public looks at politics as a morality play, not a policy seminar. The optics of bailing out Wall St. and Detroit while ignoring homeowners, small business owners, and construction workers cannot be changed by earnest management. Especially when Democrats themselves have a reputation for being handmaidens of casino capitalism and corporate welfare. Passing much needed health care reform is laudable but its benefits are too long term to affect this burgeoning resentment in the short term.

The GOP are masters at manipulating resentful, myopic, low-information voters; the Democrats wouldn’t know resentment if it bit them in the ass. (Oh. It did. We will see what they have learned)

At the close of the Bush Administration I published a book, Reviving the Left, in which I argued four claims: (1) Voters respond to underlying value systems, not policy proposals; (2) conservatism despite its superficial moral appeal is a form of nihilism, (3) managerial, interest group liberalism, because it refuses to articulate a competing value system, is ineffective as a political ideology; and (4) liberalism can be revived only by adopting a grassroots-fueled ethic of care that emphasizes our moral obligations to each other.

This election season tends to confirm all four propositions. Obama had to bail out the banks to maintain some semblance of a financial system. Had he shown the same care for homeowners and workers I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Although his campaign was vague enough to raise doubts, I had some hope that Obama understood (1), would fight to make (2) clear to the public, recognized the limits of managerial liberalism, and would begin the process of transforming liberalism into a viable political force with a powerful moral appeal. None of this has come to pass. My biggest disappointment is the utter collapse of the grassroots, youth-fueled organization that played such a role in his election. Democratic indifference toward that movement was obvious this election season. According to Ed Kilgore, “As Voters under 30 dropped from 18% of the electorate to 11%; African-Americans from 13% to 10%, and Hispanics from 9% to 8%. Meanwhile, voters over 65, the one age category carried by John McCain, increased from 16% of the electorate to 23%.”

Can we turn this around? I suppose hope springs eternal. Hope is by nature resistant to evidence but susceptible to vanity.

But without hope one has nothing.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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