Once again, David Brooks at The Times (I say, at the risk of being labeled an intellectual elite) has once again touched on a basic conflict in today’s political landscape. Yet, instead of addressing it, he (wrongly) turned his analysis toward the major political parties, particularly the Democrats.
Within a matter of paragraphs he provides these two accurate statements without recognizing the inherent contradiction:
1. “On the one hand, people are living with the daily grind of getting by on $40,000 a year, but they’re also living with Xboxes and smartphones. People in these places have traditional bourgeois values, but they live amid a decaying social fabric…[They] distrust government but still look to it for help. They disdain Wall Street but admire capitalism. They are intensely patriotic but accustomed to globalization.”
2. “American politics are volatile because nobody has an answer for these people. They will remain volatile until somebody finds one.”
How can politicians respond to voters who want everything without sacrificing anything?
No politician can live up to that standard- not Bush (though he didn’t really try), Obama (who found out the hard way) or Congress (who think sacrifice and progress are mutually exclusive).
What is a politician supposed to do when voters don’t understand the basics of legislating and governing? In life, we found what happens when we overreach on houses we can’t afford and thus have tried to re-establish a balance between what we want and reality. I would argue that the voters in 2008 (me, included) and 2010 (though I don’t include myself in this group) were just like those homeowners accepting an extra $60,000 on top of a $400K mortgage for a house that’s only worth $320,000.
We can’t get everything we want. But we vote like we can.
I don’t think this election was a “referendum” on Obama or a “mandate” for Republicans. I do think it was many voter’s opportunity to react to the Obama administration’s healthcare plan, but it also showed an unrealistic expectation of what 2 years in government means.
What did voters expect President Obama to do in the last 2 years? Regardless of whether you agree with what he did or is trying to do, I’m addressing what we thought would happen. I don’t think anything happened in the past 2 years that was totally outside a). what Obama said he’d try to do or b). what is typical for any first term President.
Now, I know many people are thinking right now- “Well, it’s President Obama’s fault for setting expectations too high.” I don’t disagree with that. But it points to a much larger problem.
Both voters and politicians have a totally unrealistic view of what our expectations are or should be.
Obama is trying to change that. After the his fiscal policy announcements early on and more recently on The Daily Show (and elsewhere), Obama is trying to reset our perspective on what type of “change” we can expect.
Before my conservative/Tea Party friends start mocking “change,” please remember that this standard would be applied to any politician or political party. I haven’t heard anything from Palin, the Pauls, or the GOP which leads me to believe that they could do any better or any faster. They might try to do things differently. Obviously. But they can’t bring back the American economy to the “pre-.com” levels in less than 22 months. Let’s be honest.
America, you must chill.
Everyone needs a little moderation…”moderate”-tion. Hmmmm. Interesting.
I’m not saying moderates have all the answers or can do what the two major parties are incapable of doing. I’m simply suggesting that when we need to strike a balance between everything–anything we need to look to those politicians who can understand both sides and find common ground.
Centrists can find the common ground, because we’re standing on it. This all-or-nothing political environment is destined to fail. Mostly because it’s impossible to create. We need a little sacrifice, a little moderation and a lot of progress.
You can’t lose 50 pounds in 1 week doing P90X and you can’t turn one of the largest economies in the world around in less than 22 months. (Whether or not Obama is going or even can turn the economy around is a subject for another post).