BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
Once termed the Manic-Depressive psychosis, the popular term for the wild swings of mood is now Bi-polar Disorder. Those of us who have been closely associated with politics because of our careers in public service know the syndrome. Also familiar with the feelings of up and down are those public spirited citizens who actively involve themselves in public issues as a part of the functioning of a great democracy. All those who are interested enough to follow candidates and political events in the news are also afflicted to some degree.
The feelings of high and low have been described as the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat, and these occur regularly in the political arena. Following the recent Massachusetts election, the moods of people in large segments of the nation’s population have been gleeful excitement or momentary despair. So it is for all those who invest of themselves in our democratic processes.
Of course, there has been an avalanche of criticisms and blame pointing following the loss in Massachusetts. Probably some of it has some measure of validity. Likewise, there has been considerable credit-claiming for the Republican win. Again, perhaps some of that has some merit. Certainly, Republicans have been jubilant and Democrats despondent. This is revealing of an unfortunate bi-polar chasm dividing our country. The depth and the width of that divide are unhealthy, as is the intensity of feelings on both sides.
Blame and credit may appear to be two opposites, each excluding the other. That is, if certain persons, trends, or happenings are really granted full credit for winning a contest or an election, then there is little room for blame in accounting for the result. Conversely, if there is a high level of blame to be placed or shared, then there is little room for credit on the opposite side. Taking these positions, the Republicans, and the candidate himself, are taking entirely too much credit for their Massachusetts win. Likewise too much blame is being placed upon the Democratic candidate, her party, etc.
But normally there is some degree of both credit and blame to attribute, and perhaps other significant causative factors not readily classified as either.
For instance, exactly how much of the 5% difference in the vote is actually due to gender bias? Nobody knows, of course. Might one guess that at least 5% of the electorate in Massachusetts thinks that women do not make as strong senators as do men? We would be inclined to bet on that in Oklahoma. If so, then therein lies the difference in the election, and neither bragging nor blame casting can be fully justified.
There are those who say the woman was not an aggressive campaigner and a weak candidate. But there are also those who point to the winner as a relative unknown, confident to the point of swagger, shallow, and given to coarseness of language and manner. But one ran as an anti-government candidate while the other was perceived as being pro-government. Rightly or wrongly, half or more of the electorate in this country is now displeased with the functioning of its representative government.
Over and over, we heard the winning candidate and citizen backers interviewed saying, “Send a message to Washington.” The questions of concern are: “Just what is the message being sent, and is it being carried by the right kind of delegate?”
If we are dissatisfied with our government, just exactly what did we want them to do different? Are we unhappy with Mr. Obama renewing our status in the world? Are we unhappy with Mr. Obama for pulling the financial industry, and the nation itself, back from the brink of the abyss? Are we really unhappy with the Democrats for passing the stimulus package, with no Republican help, to try to put the economy back on track and save jobs? Did we not want them to do these things? If not, what did we want?
OK, lots of folk have been led to think that we are spending too much and increasing the deficit too much. They want to stop that. So, let us then ask: “Are the Republicans noted for spending less and having smaller deficits?” The last president added to the deficit by cutting taxes for the rich while spending an extra $1.3 trillion in Iraq that we did not have. No emergency required either act. The last big deficit booster before that was Ronald Reagan. By contrast, the last Democratic president balanced the budget before his term was finished.
That message then is flawed, indicating a distorted public perception or an ignorance of the facts. What about the health care reform issue? A lot of folks say they are mad about health care reform and how it is going to run up the deficit, cut Medicare, and tax their benefits. At least, that is much of what is left of distortions if we omit the accusations of “death panels” to kill off grandma and similar lies. But the fact remains that when the major features of the health care reform effort are taken separately in polls, an overwhelming proportion favors most.
It appears that lots of average people out there, about 80% or so with health insurance now, are feeling insecure about changes. They have been led to believe that health care reform threatens them. And, just who has been leading them to think that? Obviously, they have received and believed the message from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the tea-baggers, rowdy Town Halls, and the Republican leadership. And they may have also listened to the various special interest groups that have spent millions of dollars in advertising their distortions of proposals for health care reform.
While these beliefs give rise to negative, although invalid, messages for the party which is ostensibly in control, there may be another, less well articulated message that is being sent to Washington. “We are sick and tired of a representative government that is dysfunctional and does not work for us,” they say. This is the message that needs to be heeded by Democrats in Washington.
Republicans in Congress have refused to vote for any of the change agenda, or the necessary corrective measures, on which the new president was swept into office. As a result of the obsolescent rules of the Senate, a super-majority of 60 is necessary to do anything. Consistently voting as a block, while Democrats have not, Republicans have succeeded in consistently obstructing the will of the majority. The health care deliberations have been a disaster, prolonged and prolonged. They have tried every maneuver.
Some Democrats, in their arrogance or selfishness, have been obstructionists to their party’s goals and efforts to move legislation through. These party rebels have caused the entire party to be perceived as being unable to govern. Much of the frustration of the people has been fairly or unfairly focused on the president and on the Democratic Congress. Of this, the Congress is guilty, and they deserve to be flagellated for their conduct.
But do we really think that the obstructionist party of negativism can do a better job? How would we know, except by history? They have not had a program of their own, except to be against everything being tried to save the country in times of economic trouble. Their last stint in control was nothing but trouble, flaunting of the law, unnecessary deficits, and the setting the stage for economic disaster. Would we really be better off with them?
The people may be saying to the Congress, “Do something! Stop playing politics and do something. We had an election that mandated change. Let’s see change. You Democrats have been bickering and not doing your job.”
It will be most unfortunate if the Democratic congress fails to get this message. If instead they get the message, “We are anti-government, anti-spending, anti-health care reform. We are going to defeat you in the next election if you do not back off on the Obama agenda and give in to the bullies and nay-sayers.”
From what we hear, we are prone to think that the Democrats are getting the wrong message.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, aka The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer