Thursday, October 7, 2010

In An Instant

Aside from the fact that the party that won the White House in the last presidential election usually loses seats in the first mid-term election that comes after, one of the other factors behind the the Democrats’ being in trouble is that it’s been tough to convince the voters that President Obama and the Democrats have actually accomplished anything.

Say what? Steve Benen has the comprehensive list of what the Obama administration has pulled off in less than two years:

I don’t expect the public to have an extensive knowledge of federal policymaking history, but I at least hoped Americans would realize the scope of recent accomplishments. We are, after all, talking about a two-year span in which Congress passed and the president signed the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, etc. Policymakers might yet add to this list in the lame-duck session.

Some of these efforts have been years in the making. In the case of health care reform, politicians have been talking about a major overhaul for a full century, but it took this Congress and this president to get it done.

All of this in spite of entrenched opposition by Republicans on everything the Democrats proposed — including ideas that the GOP was once in favor of — and a perpetual media storm by a network that is basically owned by the opposition. All that, and the thanks they get from the voters is staring down the barrel of the Republicans possibly getting the majority in the house and four or five Senate seats. Why is that?

Some say it’s the lack of communication from the White House and the Democrats; their message isn’t getting out about what they’ve done, or if it is, it’s being overshadowed by other events or the clown antics of the fringe groups who still get air time for claiming the president is a secret Muslim in cahoots with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But I think Steve M gets it when he says that what the voters wanted to see were results, not bill-signings, and so far, there aren’t a lot of tangibles to show for all the work.

Lefty political junkies, please: stop thinking like lefty political junkies. Ordinary Americans aren’t like us. They want to see kitchen-table, meat-and-potatoes results. They’ll usually settle for distractions — wars, well-publicized tax cuts they mostly don’t benefit from. But this administration hasn’t given them any of this.

It’s hard to impress someone with the news that didn’t happen. The economy didn’t collapse. The auto companies didn’t go out of business. Unemployment didn’t hit 25%. Credit card companies didn’t come after your first-born child. All of the horror stories are just that; stories. But in a culture where we wait for bad news, it’s hard to sell the voters with the pitch of “wow, you really dodged the bullet that time.” That doesn’t work.

The other factor is that we have become a nation that expects instant results. Everything has to happen NOW. The file takes a moment to download? What’s wrong with my computer? Popcorn takes three minutes in the microwave and we’re pacing in the kitchen. We fast-forward through the commercials on TiVo to see an hour-long show in forty minutes, and sitting at a stop light feels like several geological ages. So after waiting nearly seventy years for real comprehensive healthcare reform, for example, when we don’t see the magical changes to our world overnight, we throw the bums out… and vote for the party that has made their mark by doing absolutely nothing and bragging about it.