Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Throw the Bums Out, Part 67

Those strange Americans with no party affiliation, the central 10% of the electorate who effectively decide all of our elections, have spoken again, saying, "sorry, we were wrong two years ago, can we try something else again?"

"Voter dissatisfaction" is the phrase of the day. Of course this has a lot to do with the economy, which is bad. I think, though, that there is something deeper at work. Americans have been switching parties at regular intervals for the past 20 years because neither party has a message that connects very broadly with what Americans care about. Or, maybe, each party has a message that connects with half of what people care about. The politics of the health care bill show this particularly well. A majority of Americans told pollsters that it was wrong for so many Americans to be without health insurance and that the government should do something about it. But when the government did something about it, people were unhappy about what it had done -- and not just conservatives, since the angriest rants I have heard about Obamacare have come from my leftist friends.

The American economy has been generating wealth rapidly, but most of the gains have gone to the rich; depending on whose numbers you believe, the people in the middle have gained only a little, or nothing at all. Nobody knows what to do about this (least of all me). The Republican agenda of tax cuts and deregulation only seems to help the rich get richer while piling up debts that we will be paying interest on forever. But Democrats have no answer; they have lost the courage of their old leftist convictions, and nobody is arguing for 1970s-style taxes on the rich or support for broader unionization or anything of that sort. So the government does nothing to address what many Americans identify as the root of our problems, the economic troubles of the middle class. One of the reasons we feel squeezed is rising health care costs, and Obamacare is supposed to help control their rise, but if this works at all (I have my doubts) the effect won't be felt for a decade.

People are worried about terrorism, but tired of the wars we have been fighting to protect ourselves from it. People are concerned about the environment but suspicious of scientists with agendas and tired of bureaucrats with ever longer lists of rules.

Here's a good example I can get into myself: the way we are crippling ourselves through fear of lawsuits. Every single person I know thinks Americans sue each other too much, and that it is crazy for towns to dismantle playgrounds out of fear of being sued over injuries. This has been true for my entire adult life. And yet nothing is ever done about it. It seems that our legal system is so firmly entrenched in its habits that nothing the voters can do has any effect at all on how it operates. Now most lawsuits are filed in state courts, so this is not an issue the President can do much about, but it is exactly the sort of thing that leaves voters frustrated. No matter how often they tell everyone who will listen how much this bugs them, we continue to sue each other like crazy, even in states like Mississippi that have been under the control of self-proclaimed conservatives for decades.

Americans will continue to switch parties according to how the economic winds blow until somebody can convince them that he really knows what to do about their problems.

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