Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Americans Hate Change

Matt Yglesias responds to a post from Ross Douthat, arguing that both Democrats and Republicans should look to their own agendas instead of blaming the American people, writing:
I'd like to stand up for the idea of blaming the American people. Roughly speaking, liberals and conservatives have the exact same "glass jaw" in American politics, which is that they want to change things and the voters don't. The political press seems to have a hard time admitting this, but all evidence points to the complete opposite of a widespread hunger for change anchored by bold plans and courageous thinking. What people want, overwhelmingly, is a politician who'll promise not to do anything. As Republicans discovered when they tried to privatize Social Security and again when they unveiled a plan to privatize Medicare, people don't want a transformation of the American welfare state. And as Democrats discovered with their universal health care program, people don't want a transformation of the American welfare state. Nobody will spell out what tax deductions they would eliminate as part of a comprehensive tax reform because people don't want a transformation of the tax code. People mock the timidity of Mitt Romney's promise to balance the budget by cutting PBS funding, but it turns out that cutting PBS funding is unpopular. In fact, people don't want to cut spending on anything any more than they want a serious policy to tackle climate change.

Policy entrepreneurs who are seriously committed to change tend to find ways to persuade themselves that voters secretly agree with them, but these soundings always suffer from abstract/concrete problems. 53 percent of voters are "completely" or "somewhat" dissatisfied with K-12 education in America, but only 21 percent are dissatisfied with their own kids' school. Romney's most important promise in the Medicare reform debate is that nobody who's old will have to face any changes, and Obama's most important promise in the Affordable Care Act debate was that nobody who's currently insured would have their coverage change.
I agree completely. Politics in America is boring because most people are really quite happy with the way things are, or at least cannot agree on any government policy changes that might help. And they certainly aren't interested in helping poor people, say by providing them with health insurance, if it means that they themselves have to suffer in any way.

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