I just read an article in Slate by Jacob Weisberg that speaks directly to one of my biggest frustrations in political discussions: the fatalistic shoulder-shrugging platitude, “What do you expect? They’re all politicians and politicians are all the same.”

Well, politicians don’t spring out of the earth fully prepared with barometers and weather vanes. Politicians are created. We create them:

In trying to explain why our political paralysis seems to have gotten so much worse over the past year, analysts have rounded up a plausible collection of reasons including: President Obama’s tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, the blustering idiocracy of the cable-news stations, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for any important legislation. These are all large factors, to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit in our current predicament: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.

Anybody who says you can’t have it both ways clearly hasn’t been spending much time reading opinion polls lately. One year ago, 59 percent of the American public liked the stimulus plan, according to Gallup. A few months later, with the economy still deeply mired in recession, a majority of the same size said Obama was spending too much money on it. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind, of course, but opinion polls over the last year reflect something altogether more troubling: a country that simultaneously demands and rejects action on unemployment, deficits, health care, climate change, and a whole host of other major problems. Sixty percent of Americans want stricter regulations of financial institutions. But nearly the same proportion says we’re suffering from too much regulation on business. That kind of illogic—or, if you prefer, susceptibility to rhetorical manipulation—is what locks the status quo in place.
[…] The usual way to describe such inconsistent demands from voters is to say that the public is an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than are watching Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly negligent rather than militant. The more compelling explanation is that the American public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time. In this respect, the whole country is becoming more and more like California, where ignorance is bliss and the state’s bonds have dropped to an A- rating (the same level as Libya’s), thanks to a referendum system that allows the people to be even more irresponsible than their elected representatives. Middle-class Americans really don’t want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs—except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them. We like the idea of hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one in reality?

The politicians thriving at the moment are the ones who embody this live-for-the-today mentality, those best able to call for the impossible with a straight face. Take Scott Brown, the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts. Brown wants government to take in less revenue: He has signed a no-new-taxes pledge and called for an across-the-board tax cut on families and businesses. But Brown doesn’t want government to spend any less money: He opposes reductions in Medicare payments and all other spending cuts of any significance. He says we can lower deficits above 10 percent of GDP—the largest deficits since World War II, deficits so large that they threaten our future as the world’s leading military and economic power—simply by cutting government waste. No sensible person who has spent five minutes looking at the budget thinks that’s remotely possible. The charitable interpretation is that Brown embodies naive optimism, an approach to politics that Ronald Reagan left as one of his more dubious legacies to Republican Party. A better explanation is that Brown is consciously pandering to the public’s ignorance and illusions the same way the rest of his Republican colleagues are.

Weisberg goes on to say that the problem is not limited to Republicans.

It’s a truly odd kind of contradiction in the national character of a people who, more than any other people in the world, built a nation by being willing to face the unknown, accept extraordinary hardships, and sacrifice comfort, security, safety, and certainty for a chance at something better, with no guarantee of success, that in recent years (and I’m using the word “recent” loosely — I think it’s at least since post-World War II), we do not seem to be able to tolerate any degree of difficulty or shared sacrifice. I don’t pretend to know the reason for it, but I do know that Jacob Weisberg is right when he suggests we get politicians instead of political leaders because we make it clear that’s what we want.

POSTSCRIPT: Bruce McQuain likes living in Candyland, thank you very much!

Kathy Kattenburg
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JSpencer
Member

Americans really don’t want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs—except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them. We like the idea of hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one in reality?

I think that’s right on the mark. One of the reasons Reagan was so popular is because he encouraged and traded on that very fantasy, made people feel good about themselves, without requiring any basis for it in fact. Lots of talk and an expanding gulf between the talk and the reality became popular then and continued till today. But it’s true, the public settles and doesn’t demand much that is reality based anymore – including demands on themselves to be aware of what is happening around them (sorry, but soaking up propaganda doesn’t count). I tend to agree that the last generation of Americans worth their salt was the WWII generation.

dduck
Member

A better explanation is that Brown is consciously pandering to the public’s ignorance and illusions the same way the rest of his Republican colleagues are.”

Gee, there was this pied piper from the land of the Illinois who promised to get rid of all the vermin and create 3 million jobs while he was making wine from water. (This last was a problem since he forgot about the grape pickers union.)
Politicians D and R are all alike, they like their pork skewered but not taken away and they pray to the god of reelection.

JOE WINDISH, Technology Editor
Member

You beat me to this one Kathy. Bravo!

JSpencer
Member

Don’t worry Kathy, that old dynamic is going out the window. With the Tea Party we’re going to see a brand new world! No more taxes, a stripped down federal govenment, a magically disappearing deficit, maybe a fresh war or two, and (best for last) corporate sponsored celebrations in the street every day! You are going to love it! Just be patient…

ProfElwood
Guest

Maybe what we’re really running into here, is the fact that neither party can divorce itself from their lobbyist money. We’re rapidly approaching the point where the taxes will have to be increased across the board, or the interests will have to take a hit. We’ve pretty much borrowed everything that we can from foreign countries, who are understandably getting worried, and have probably pushed the limit of creating money from nothing before we see Zimbabwe-type inflation.

Something has got to give, and give soon.

alphonsegaston
Guest

Great piece! Candyland, where it’s morning in America.

I am beginning to believe that analyzing every move Obama and the Democrats make as if there were anything that could help is fruitless. We are in the Bread and Circuses phase of our empire.

Maybe the boomers and the later generations that follow their values or think they do are our downfall after all, just not in the way that critics in the 1960s imagined it. I’m 75 years old, yellow dog liberal–and I am not surprised, but not happy either, that the public has become so entertainment focused, so selfish, so paralyzed by mental intellectual laziness, that we have become ungovernable.

I am trying to retreat into my garden, where there is some chance of accomplishment, now that I have enclosed the dahlia/vegetable garden in a six foot chain link fence to thwart Bambi and family. Too bad we can’t fence out the Republicans.

alphonsegaston
Guest

mental/intellectual (I blame the netbook keyboard

DLS
Guest

“We are in the Bread and Circuses phase of our empire.”

That’s the real substance behind the threat of Carville’s “40 More Years” of Democratic rule.

* * *

“California, where ignorance is bliss and the state’s bonds have dropped to an A- rating (the same level as Libya’s), thanks to a referendum system that allows the people to be even more irresponsible than their elected representatives”

I’m familiar with California and its “Massachusetts Lite” liberal politics. Fortunately, though it leads the nation in many ways (and “leads” in the sense it drives as well as precedes other parts of it), it is not always the model, any more than New York City (which bankrupted itself through liberalism) is.

The hypocritical lib elitist contempt for direct democracy when it’s politically incorrect is duly noted.

DLS
Guest

“I think the root of the problem lies, as Weisberg points out in his piece, with the American people”

Many are dependent and have become even demanding with entitlements, and view government wrongly, not as government (authority — power over people) but as something else. That is the problem with many people, in addition to related things like economic ignorance about and misplaced faith and trust in interventionism.

oaechief
Guest

“I think it’s at least since post-World War II” Those folks that were adults when WWII began, those folks that were parents before WWII began all suffered through the depression. Bread lines, soup kitchens, 25% unemployment, 3rd floor, cold-water, walk-up flats, living in basements with no electricity.

I would suggest that there probably is not anyone reading this comment or any blog that has a clue to what is was like in the 1930s. I know people, today, who have it rough, who have lost their house, who cannot afford any of the niceties of life yet they are a heck of a lot better off than a lot of those folks in the ’30s.

If you are reading this, you probably haven’t had to band together, to stick together for the survival of the group. Those people in the ’40s & ’50s were tough. They beat the depression, they beat the Axis Powers, they were survivors and they made a better world. Their grand-children (metaphorically speaking) had it handed to them and they never had to fight for it, to really earn it.

alphonsegaston
Guest

Kathy, I agree that the Democrats are also to blame, as I tried to imply in my remark about the uselessness of analyzing them as if anything can be done. During the primary I supported Hillary and thought that Obama was not ready, if he ever would be, and that Candyland was being held up once again as the goal. Fence remark just a joke. And as for the so-called democracy some posters are talking about–where is it? By that I mean where is the concerned, thoughtful electorate these days? If that is an elitist question, so be it. Back in the day, and I mean the Oh Boy potatoes for dinner day (much better than mayonaisse sandwiches), we were not ashamed when we achieved something. Elitism is in the eye of the beholder.

DLS
Guest

” By that I mean where is the concerned, thoughtful electorate these days? If that is an elitist question, so be it.”

I was correct in characterizing instances of contempt for the word “populism” and anger at results of democratic decisions that liberals don’t like, as can be heard routinely on “progressive” talk radio these days. (It’s similar to the views many hold of California’s Proposition 13; it is defective, but only one in a thousand, if that fraction, of critics knows why. The critics typically are liberals just upset that it is a limit on the ability to raise property taxes, especially on expensive newer housing. There are abuses of California’s initiative process, which is subject to hijacking by corporate and other big-money special interests, but that doesn’t, or rather shouldn’t indict direct democratic mechanisms and direct democracy itself, just the abuse of these things.)

A thoughtful, knowledgeable, informed electorate, more than we have now, would be fine, and I’d like to see the suffrage qualified as well as weighted by such things as test scores on basic civics or on the test immigrants have to pass to attain citizenship, or tests about current issues as well as civics. As with intelligence testing, I’d gladly pit non-liberals against liberals in competing for voting weights or qualifications on this basis, with the confidence that non-liberals would do quite well against their opponents, and I suspect openly that any opponents’ claims of reluctance on the grounds of inequity are being made in order to conceal their real concern(s).

alphonsegaston
Guest

DLS, I see your problem. I am a liberal. Sorry. I am also a populist myself and, since I am not on progressive radio, or tv, I can’t really be lumped with them For one thing, I am too old. For another, I am a Chistian, quite unacceptable to the young progressives. Intelligence and education are important, of course, but so is morality, as in being one’s brother’s keeper and understanding that one is not the center of the universe. Concern for others, especially the sick and poor, is a Christian imperative. That means, for example, that my excellent income and health benefits should not cause me to be against health benefits for others, even if it costs me money. And it seems to me only common sense that a populace with jobs, health care, educational benefits, and respect for one another, is desirable.

It seems to me that the vaunted “populism” of today’s politics, is nothing like that.

DLS
Guest

“Intelligence and education are important, of course, but so is morality, as in being one’s brother’s keeper and understanding that one is not the center of the universe.”

Many of the progressives are self-centered, or self-absorbed (as well as often naive or unrealistic). However, many of them also mean well; the reason they despise the public that is apprehensive (or worse) toward liberalism or Big Government because they are impatient with or intolerant toward those who fail to See the Light. (It doesn’t help, either, when the Great Experts this past year have given us numerous instances of concern that their own vision is far from clear.)

“That means, for example, that my excellent income and health benefits should not cause me to be against health benefits for others, even if it costs me money.”

Well, they don’t like being treated literally as serfs and not consulted, by the mandarins and their minions in Washington who presume (and sometimes profess, or merely inadvertently admit sometimes) that they know what’s best for everyone — or at least, everyone else.

That some of the public are defensive and selfish is no doubt true, but often this is a false accusation. Defensive, yes, often for good reason; selfish or immoral, no.

Axel Edgren
Guest

Americans just talk a big game all the time.

The narrative is that Obama is lofty and idealist while the people have more pressing concerns.

It’s the other way around.

JSpencer
Member

I think the people already are outraged. But they don’t know what they’re outraged about, or whether what they’re told is true or false, or whether they want it to be different like this or different like that. That’s what Weisberg was talking about. That’s what I’m talking about. Getting outraged is worse than useless if you don’t know when you’re being lied to and about what. Getting outraged accomplishes nothing if you reject reality and honesty and opt instead to follow the politician who tells you what you want to hear. If you don’t ever pick up a book or a newspaper, or watch anything on television other than Fox, or go to the library once in a while, do your homework and fact-check the politicians and the media reports every so often, what does outrage count for? Absolutely nothing. ~ Kathy K

Amen sister, amen.

kazoolist
Guest

So, the Real Word = Candyland, huh?

Go get a clue. McQuain’s analysis is spot on.

ProfElwood
Guest

My issue was with the absolute conviction on something that’s not so provable, or in this case, likely. Politically motivated or not I cannot buy the idea that saving the bankers for a period, rather than trying to unwind the debts in as orderly manner as possible, has given us anything more than a few months delay of the inevitable, and aided the richest at the expense of the rest of the country.

As loathesome as the bailout was, the economy would have collapsed without it.

alphonsegaston
Guest

@DLS–sorry about the late response, have been supervising the digging out–

We often don’t like to be told what to do. But when my doctor overrules what my Internet search has revealed about my symptons, I do what he says.

Helping others is chancy–many people don’t like to admit need. And they often view their advisors and helpers with resentment. I learned early on to suck it up; I went to high school in my mother’s employer’s cast-off clothes. A special memory is the first time I got on the school bus in her last-year’s maroon and gray plaid coat.

People who think they are being patronized usually are, but by whom? The leaders who know damn well the health insurance stranglehold on Americans needs to be broken, or the new “populists” who gain power by fueling the resentment?

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