Political Culture: Still Two Americas

We may not have John Edwards to kick around anymore – though that hasn’t stopped us from putting the occasional boot into his backside, has it? – but he did leave us with a paradigm that remains useful in surveying the political landscape circa November 2009. Forget, for the moment, Edwards’ rhetoric about the rich and the poor, and focus instead on the two wildly disparate narratives about the nation’s politics that have emerged over the past 12 months. On one side are those are still living in Bamalot, who see slow but steady progress toward fixing enormous problems in the economy, health care and foreign policy; on the other are those who see nothing but dollar bills flying out the windows of the Capitol. On one side are those who remain quietly, but fiercely proud of what America accomplished last autumn; on the other are those who loudly trumpet their conviction (or who put up with people who remain convinced) that the president himself is not an American.

On Tuesday, in a couple of states, one side sat contentedly on their asses and did nothing; the other harnessed themselves into an angry, energized mini-electorate that drove to the polls and turned their governors’ mansions from blue to red.

There was something deeply ironic about HBO’s decision to debut its new documentary, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, on Tuesday evening. At the same hour on every news channel, a debate was raging as to whether Obama’s “movement for change” had hit a roadblock with the Republican victories in New Jersey and Virginia. But over on pay cable, it was Decision ’08 all over again as the Edward Norton-produced doc replayed the goings-on behind the scenes of Obama’s primary and general-election victories – and portrayed his opponents as little more than flies to be swatted along the path to the inevitable.

So, yes, the dichotomy was ironic – but it was also a nice metaphor for Tuesday’s outcome. Obama’s voters, feeling like they did their job last year and remaining pretty happy with the way things have gone since then, stayed home and watched TV, while the unhappy folks dragged their butts to the polls and changed the status quo. Such is democracy in America – particularly in these off-off-year elections, when the voters of New Jersey and (particularly) Virginia love to send Bronx cheers to the party in power.

Whether or not Tuesday’s results were a referendum on Obama’s first year depends on who’s punditizing. Maybe Republicans are rebounding strongly from their annus horribilis … and maybe they just benefited from minuscule turnout, weak opponents and/or Democratic complacency. Take your pick. The truth, though, is that none of this year’s “big” elections meant much of anything to the direction of the country at large – except in Maine, where Americans proved once again that they’re not morally or intellectually worthy of being trusted with mob-rule decisions on minority rights. (It’s long past time that the Supreme Court took such decisions out of their hands for good; the whole enterprise of public voting to deny civil rights is patently unconstitutional.)

Even if Tuesday’s results were largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, I couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of mentalities on display during Chris Christie’s victory rally and Obama’s equivalent celebrations last year. Remember all the respectful diversity and joyful weeping that attended Obama’s Grant Park speech last November? In contrast, Christie’s audience was the usual crowd of jackals – the kind we’ve seen regularly since the 1992 GOP convention, but especially since last year’s frightening election season. Note to Republican activists: When your own candidate shushes you because you’re embarrassing him on national television, as Christie did this week (and McCain did repeatedly last Nov. 4), you might want to modify your behavior.

Of course, conservative rally-goers have maintained that feral posture throughout this year, through tea parties and town halls that persistently echoed the worst expressions of racism, paranoia and xenophobia at last year’s Sarah Palin rallies. (HBO really ought to be airing its new Obama doc back-to-back with Alexandra Pelosi’s far more riveting film about those McCain/Palin crowds, Right America Feeling Wronged, which retains its raw-nerve immediacy the same way that footage of, say, Bull Connor still terrifies 50 years later.) Indeed, the positivity of the Obama campaign already seems like ancient history compared with the open, seeping wound of White Man’s Victimization that’s still being picked at on a weekly basis by right-wing pundits and teabaggers.

But then, that’s precisely the point of those efforts – to use lies and scare tactics to cover the fact that conservatives have no ideas of their own for fixing the nation’s problems. While Obama and the Democrats have turned from the generalities of campaigning to the specifics of governing, conservative activists have been left with little legislative influence and no standing whatsoever as purveyors of wise policy, considering the last eight years. So they’ve filled the vacuum by doubling down on the rabid, irrational arguments of fall ’08, hoping to whittle away at public support for Obama’s agenda via amped-up name-calling (Foreign-born! Socialist! Fascist! Socialist-Fascist!) and thinly disguised threats of violence.

Does anybody really think the results in Virginia and New Jersey this week were a validation of that strategy? In fact, both Christie and Bob McDonnell won by sublimating their conservative impulses – or flat-out denying them, in the case of McDonnell’s wingnut thesis – and embracing Obama’s themes, if not his policies, in an effort to win Independent votes. And they succeeded, even as exit polls showed that majorities of the substantially reduced electorates in both states still support Obama, and even favor the public option. Not that these lessons will be learned by the teabaggers, who are far more excited about what they accomplished in upstate New York – using an “independent” conservative carpetbagger to force aside a moderate Republican – than they are about winning the governor’s mansions in Richmond and Trenton. In the process they lost a congressional seat that had been in GOP hands since the Civil War, but never mind that … ideological purity was enforced!

If Republicans are smart, they’ll encourage their faithful to start emulating McDonnell and stop cheerleading for Michelle Bachmann and Orly Taitz. Perhaps a guy like McDonnell, despite his repugnant “past” beliefs, can grab the reins of the GOP and keep it from galloping over the cliff toward which Palin and Limbaugh and Bachmann and Beck have been steering it. Don’t bet on it, though; the teabaggers, empowered by their overthrow of Dede Scozzafava up in Watertown, are now sniffing under rocks nationwide to find primary challengers for districts represented by other insufficiently crazy Republicans. They’ll probably force McDonnell himself to rediscover his old-time religion soon enough.

Meanwhile, as health care reform lurches toward its denouement and Republicans pick their next battle – how dare Obama launch a jobs program! – the gulf between the Two Americas will no doubt widen in the coming year. Democrats need to re-energize their base and remind Independents that their agenda is about more than just spending a mint-ful of money; no matter how successful they are, they face an uphill battle to ensure that next November’s turnout looks more like last year’s than this year’s. Republicans, on the other hand, need to figure out whether they’re the party of Christie and McDonnell or the party of Doug Hoffman.

What’s that? You’ve forgotten who Doug Hoffman is? That’s because he lost on Tuesday – the same way that most every candidate who forsakes the center in pursuit of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck’s endorsements will lose next autumn. If that happens, we’ll still have Two Americas – but one will be even smaller than it is now.




  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    As a resident here in New Jersey, I had an awful decision to make. Jon Corzine balanced the budget, that much is true, but down in the trenches, it was mostly the little guys feeling the pain. That's a key phrase there – “Feeling the pain” is something he said all New Jerseyans would need to do in the current fiscal crisis, and there is truth there. It ought to be a shared burden in a democracy, but there's something that makes the bile rise when that phrase is coming from a multi-millionaire. I didn't vote for Corzine.

    Chris Christie's record is a jumble of inconsistencies, but he said the one thing most New Jerseyans want to hear, the thing that has gotten candidates elected over and over again, and the thing they fail to do again and again, which is why the state is one of the biggest jokes of the Union: cut property taxes. All across America, there's nothing so forthcoming as a Jersey put-down, so if we're that awful, why do we have the highest property taxes in the whole country? If it's so bad up here, why is it made equally expensive to stay?

    Christie's “plan” kept saying, “create more jobs!” and “cut property taxes!” but never said how. Those are goals, not a plan. A plan is what helps you achieve your goal, but that's not as sexy a thing to say. I didn't vote for Christie either.

    Yup, I “threw my vote away” and went with Independent candidate Chris Daggett. I knew he hadn't a chance in Hell, and I worried my lack of a main-party vote would help throw it to the greater of the two evils, but in this particular election I couldn't figure out exactly who that would have been!

  • stephanienmo

    If Obama had any influence on these elections, it was very little. There are so many other factors- it being an off-year election, amount of voters, and the history of Gov. elections the year after a prez. election. These definitely paid more of a role.
    http://www.newsy.com/videos/gubernatorial_victo

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    It kinda says something about Obama and kinda doesn't. He stumped for Corzine on three separate occasions, filling up a few of the state's bigger auditoriums in the process, and many of the local pundits thought such superstar treatment would have had more of an effect. It might have, on the negative side. I can't definitively say.

    But again, at this point, Corzine was pretty much pushing this perennial stone of Sisyphus up the slope. Whoever gets on the right side of the “cut property taxes” rhetoric usually ends up winning. They don't cut the taxes, mind you, but it certainly is the trigger that fires the gun. Corzine made the fatal error of saying that, if things got worse, he would have to consider raising the property taxes yet again.

    And the truth is that if things all take a dump, Christie will have to do the same… But now he's the governor (elect) and trivial things like what you said to win fade away. Not permanently though. As with so many political things, those words will be back to haunt him once he's the incumbent.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    I'm not sure New Jersey is the biggest joke in the union anymore. California has that ignominious prize with our inability to reform Prop 13 so we can fund our state services in a way that doesn't maintain our Second World status. Sure, we have the 8th largest economy, but what about our education system? We're pretty much at the bottom in K-12, and our college and university systems are pretty much in a shambles. Yet, we hear the same song and dance from Republicans: cut taxes, shrink government, and privatize social services so they eventually disappear.

    Also, one thing our glorious liberal media keeps ignoring: in New York and California Democrats won congressional races. That's hardly a disappointment when it comes to national politics for the Dems and Obama.

  • Preston

    Judge Land and now judge Carter, smack down the crazies (case dismissed), poor little Birthers.

    Not even “Fake News” Bill O’Reilly believes the crazies, how funny.

    http://belowthebeltway.com/2009/10/29/bill-orei

    To all the birthers in La, La Land, it is on you to prove to all of us that your assertion is true (TOUGH WHEN YOU KEEP LOSING CASES), if there are people who were there and support your position then show us the video (everyone has a price), either put up or frankly shut-up.

    In my opinion the Republican Party has been taken over the most extreme religious right (people who love to push their beliefs on others while trying to take away the rights of those they just hate) and that is who they need to extract from their party if they real want to win. Good Luck, because as they said in WACO, “We Ain’t Coming Out”.

    I heard that she now wants to investigate the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC).

    I wonder if she is a mail order bride, just like her law degree? She is perfect reporter material for “Fake News”, where unfounded rumors and innuendo reign supreme , unlike a our US courts of law, where you need to present documented facts, not half baked lies (prepare for more failures).

    A lawyer, dentist, realtor and black belt, WOW I must say a JACK of all trades master of none.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    For all the kowtowing the regular news outlets are purportedly accused of, there is still a large degree of frenemy action there. The governors races were highlighted because it looked very much like the Dems could lose. Some would render this as balance, others would say the network news was picking and choosing in order to shape the debate into something sellable (i/e watch Our news show) – I'm inclined to believe the latter.

  • http://thevitaminkid.blogspot.com autodidact

    I think there are indeed two Americas. Responsible America and Irresponsible America. I hope the former is in the majority, but I'm not sure. If so, they cannot be happy. Leaving aside the wisdom of maintaining a war in one Muslim country and guaranteeing peace in a Muslim country next door, leaving aside the philosophical debate about who should control health care, the number one issue is indeed dollar bills flying out the door.

    Responsible America thinks that those dollars should be spent in an efficient manner on things that will build up the long-term infrastructure of our nation. Responsible America knows that we cannot consume more than we produce, and that disadvantaging producers means an end to growth. But Federal dollars are not being spent efficiently, and often times they are not spent on projects that will be a long-term benefit. Both of those criticisms apply to the previous years of Republican control, but even more so they apply now. The primary conduit of “dollars flying out the door” is being funneled in direct and indirect ways to a finance industry guilty of massive fraud, and speculative activity that continues to increase the risk of a Black Swan event greater than the one we just experienced.

    Mr. Obama must cast off the shackles of his big-money supporters in the banking industry and prosecute or at least remove the people who knew they were granting loans to people who could not pay them back, those who knew they were passing these bad loans off to the securities industry, those who were rating securities AAA that they knew were full of junk, those selling the tranches to suckers and then betting against those very same securities in the derivatives market… and the fraud goes on and on. These are the folks who've been bailed out with the vast majority of the “money flying out the door.” (Obama even used those words in a press conference — loaning money when they knew it could not be paid back. Why has there been no logical follow up question: “What you just described, Mr. President, is fraud. Where are the prosecutions???!!!”)

    Next, Obama must craft regulations what will create the kind of transparency, oversight, and incentives to greatly discourage such fraud in the future. He must set up a resolution trust as was done in the S&L debacle, to put bankrupt institutions into receivership, pay off depositors, sell off bad assets, and allow the economy to start moving again, free of these burdens of unpayable debt. Otherwise, we will see banks who borrow money from the fed at zero interest, and sock it away in reserves (not lending), or even worse, speculate with it! That's exactly what is happening now.

    Obama has surrounded himself with men who advocate the opposite of these responsible actions. And we see the result. Destruction of the currency, ballooning unemployment, new bubbles forming in stocks and commodities, and the banking fraudsters taking home even greater bonuses. (The salary or bonus controls announced by the White House affect only a very few people in the industry, and I guarantee you they will find a way around those regulations. They always do.)

    In South Park terms, Obama is acting like Goldman Sachs' bottom bitch, and Congress represents the rest of the ho's. He's creating or attempting to create an Atlas Shrugged-like unholy alliance between major industries like finance and gov't, health care and gov't, manufacturing (autos) and government, and who knows what is next?

    Responsible America has had enough. What does that have to do with the election returns? Responsible America is more motivated than ever to vote for whatever will represent a roadblock to the fraud-irresponsibility-industrial complex. In this case, at the state level. Responsible Democrats will be discouraged to vote for those in their own party who are part of the problem. And Responsible Independents are increasingly realizing that Obama is not what they thought they voted for. Just another smooth talker who played them for suckers. (Hence the GOP got 60% of the independent vote in NJ, and McDonnell in Virginia got a whopping 66% of the independents.)

    I still don't know if responsibility can win the day. I pray that it will. And I will pray for justice for those who have stolen so much from so many with the help of the “bitches” in both parties.

    Please, I urge everyone to listen to Janet Tavakoli's interview on C-SPAN's Q&A program, as she describes the fraud that occurred, and the upside-down response of our government to it. Ms. Tavakoli is a Chicago-based expert on financial derivatives, President of Tavakoli Structured Finance, Incorporated. She can explain much better than I can.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA20Am0pwtA

    I do apologize for the length. There is no simple way to describe the wreckage and theft that is occurring in our economy. 10.2% unemployment (BLS U-6 unemployment figure now 17.5%). How's that workin' out for ya? For the bankers in Too Big To Fail institutions, very well, thank you. :thumbs up sign:

  • http://thevitaminkid.blogspot.com autodidact

    P.S. Scuzzy in Watertown, NY, was no moderate. We all know this. Repeating the Democrat talking point does not make it true.

  • JonCummings

    As always, that's DemocratIC to you. And really, what does it matter where on the moderate-to-liberal spectrum she fell. She was a mainstream Northeast Republican–one of about five remaining–and was chosen to run by the Republican Powers That Be in her district. And now that district is Democratic. Congratulations!

  • JonCummings

    Thanks for the thesis. Too bad it's mostly a crock. Where was your “Responsible America” during the Bush administration? Cheerleading his multi-trillion-dollar wars of choice and his despicable tax cuts, that's where–at least until it became clear he was flushing America down the toilet, at which point you turned your backs on him and created your bogus vision of “Responsible America.”
    (A vision which, I imagine, doesn't involve ending hundreds of billions of dollars spent inefficiently on military boondoggles, or hundreds of millions spent on pure lunacy like abstinence-only sex education–and which would never entertain the notion of paying off the huge Iraq War debt or rebuilding New Orleans with help from new, progressive taxes.)

    BTW, you sure make it sound like Obama's accomplished a lot in the last 10 months–weren't right-wingers just complaining a few weeks ago that he hadn't done anything at all?

    I don't disagree with your prescription for the financial sector, and it is a huge disappointment that Obama isn't heading strongly in that direction. Geithner should be gone–but you probably wouldn't like the guy I would demand take his place (Paul Krugman).

    As for the rest of it, though–I think you're an intelligent guy who has some principles attached to your criticisms, but if you want to tell me you're part of a large and growing “responsible America” I can only tell you you're completely delusional. Did you hear about the anti-healthcare rally at the Capitol yesterday, featuring dim-bulbs carrying signs that linked Obama to the Rothschilds (and the supposed Vast Jewish Conspiracy) and comparing the public option to Dachau? You can read all about it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/ar

    Is this gang of idiotic assholes your supposed “responsible America”? Because, no matter what their attitudes toward taxing and spending, the last thing these fools are is “responsible.”

  • JonCummings

    As always, that's DemocratIC to you. And really, what does it matter where on the moderate-to-liberal spectrum she fell. She was a mainstream Northeast Republican–one of about five remaining–and was chosen to run by the Republican Powers That Be in her district. And now that district is Democratic. Congratulations!

  • JonCummings

    Thanks for the thesis. Too bad it's mostly a crock. Where was your “Responsible America” during the Bush administration? Cheerleading his multi-trillion-dollar wars of choice and his despicable tax cuts, that's where–at least until it became clear he was flushing America down the toilet, at which point you turned your backs on him and created your bogus vision of “Responsible America.”
    (A vision which, I imagine, doesn't involve ending hundreds of billions of dollars spent inefficiently on military boondoggles, or hundreds of millions spent on pure lunacy like abstinence-only sex education–and which would never entertain the notion of paying off the huge Iraq War debt or rebuilding New Orleans with help from new, progressive taxes.)

    BTW, you sure make it sound like Obama's accomplished a lot in the last 10 months–weren't right-wingers just complaining a few weeks ago that he hadn't done anything at all?

    I don't disagree with your prescription for the financial sector, and it is a huge disappointment that Obama isn't heading strongly in that direction. Geithner should be gone–but you probably wouldn't like the guy I would demand take his place (Paul Krugman).

    As for the rest of it, though–I think you're an intelligent guy who has some principles attached to your criticisms, but if you want to tell me you're part of a large and growing “responsible America” I can only tell you you're completely delusional. Did you hear about the anti-healthcare rally at the Capitol yesterday, featuring dim-bulbs carrying signs that linked Obama to the Rothschilds (and the supposed Vast Jewish Conspiracy) and comparing the public option to Dachau? You can read all about it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/ar

    Is this gang of idiotic assholes your supposed “responsible America”? Because, no matter what their attitudes toward taxing and spending, the last thing these fools are is “responsible.”

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