Friday, December 3, 2010

Policy Preferences and Democratic Weakness

On Wednesday I shared a small taste of Bill Maher's skeptical attitude about American voters' understanding of issues and policies. He, of course, is not the only one who notes a wide and long-standing anti-scientific, anti-intellectual streak in this country.

Is it getting worse? It would seem so, in part because of a new level of right-wing aggressiveness, much of it associated with Sarah Palin and teabaggers. Palin sneers at those pointy-headed intellectuals, and the teabaggers eat it up. In her crowd, anti-science has become fashionable and, perversely, is viewed as virtuous.

And yet...  

RJ Eskow, a Senior Fellow with The Campaign for America's Future, cites many reasons to feel good about the wisdom of Americans, at least a majority of us. He has collected some impressive polling data, complete with compelling pie charts that show clear majorities of Americans prefer progressive legislation and policy choices. To wit:

     1.  A large majority opposes cuts to social security;
     2.  Seven in ten oppose raising the retirement age;
     3.  A plurality says to raise taxes on the wealthy;
     4.  Nearly 4 in 5 are against cuts in Medicare;
     5.  Nearly 2 in 3 oppose cuts in lending for college tuition;
     6.  About 6 in 10 say to do more to assist unemployed workers
     7.  4 in 5 say to do more to reduce poverty
     8.  Seven in 10 favor more regulation on Wall Street

Such clear preferences do not demonstrate that people actually understand the details or implications of their choices (3 in 10 don't favor Wall Street regulation?); but they do show that most people want government to help them, not get out of the way, as Republicans since Reagan have claimed. 

As I have posted before, it is essential that we understand the role of political identity. The polls Eskow cites suggest most American prefer, wait for it -- socialism -- a strong dollop of the European model, complete with much more equitable income distribution (say it ain't so Ayn Rand). Many gravitate towards Republicans because it suits their personalities. They want to see politicians project strength, conviction, and detemination. Republicans may have an unusual obsession with swagger, symbolism, and simplistic interpretations of complex issues, but nobody likes to see weakness in their elected officials. And that is what we have mostly seen in the last two years with Dems in the White House and Senate.

People want the Democrats to win, but they have no patience with any party that says it stands for the middle class and then repeatedly squanders its opportunities. Many Americans may be uninformed, many have short memories, and many are impatient, not realizing how long it takes to turn our economy around. Those are faults of the electorate that complicate governing in the US. But nobody is making Democratic politicians look weak except themselves.

Republicans write the script only because Dems let them.

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