Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | October 19, 2010

How to Misunderstand Voters for Fun and Profit

Today is clearly the day to dismantle Howard Kurtz’s Daily Beast post on the “media blowing the midterms.” Allahpundit has taken a whack at it, and so has Ace of Spades.  There’s no need to repeat their points; for a good time, read both posts, which stand on their own nicely.

I think there’s more to say, however.  Even Ace’s acerbic takedown is a little too focused on the internal mechanics of the political process – and I don’t think that’s what the 2010 election is about.  The biggest problem with Kurtz’s analysis is that he doesn’t question his most basic assumptions about the people and their idea of government.  He writes as if there had never been any intellectual opposition to the modern statism ushered in by “progressive” politicians like Wilson and FDR – as if we all believe the same things about government’s role and government effectiveness, and Obama has simply been unable to find the commonly-agreed target in the last two years.

The whole point of 2010 is that that is not true.  My issue with Obama is not that the media have been carrying his water and acting as his private security detail.  My issue with him isn’t “the economy.”  That’s not what motivates me to change the direction in Washington.  Of course I want to see the economy improve, but Kurtz and I are worlds apart on how that excellent result can be brought about.  I suspect Kurtz feels bolstered by routine polls in identifying “the economy” as the main worry of the voters in the growing Obama backlash – and for some of the voters that may be the case.  But it is emphatically not the case for Tea Party voters.

The polls never offer respondents the option Tea Party voters would choose as their biggest concern.  Perhaps that’s because the typical polling organization wouldn’t even know how to phrase it.  “Constitutional liberties” would be one way to put it.  That expression gets across the central issue of liberty, and it tethers that issue to the U.S. Constitution, and hence to the trends and actions of government that are of practical relevance to American citizens.  Tea Party voters aren’t suffering from Kurtz’s “inchoate” anger, nor are their concerns captured by the polling themes that have been conventional for the last 50-odd years or more.  Their anger is grounded in the excesses of the federal government observed throughout most of our lifetimes, but startlingly and dramatically accelerated by Barack Obama and his Democratic congressional majority.

Most Tea Partiers would identify these excesses as a major cause – probably the major cause – of our current economic woes.  And political and economic liberty go hand in hand:  if government purports to function as the Great Job Distributor in the Sky, and prescribes how much you get to earn, how much you get to keep, and in what material estate you get to live, then your effective political liberties are curtailed just as if laws had been passed against them.  Political liberty, religious liberty, intellectual liberty – these can only be effectively retained by people who do not owe their options for survival to the state.

To a growing number of Americans, their objections to the Obama agenda are precisely the opposite of inchoate.  Obama has made big financial companies the fiefdoms of his executive branch, for example – and the point is not how effective he’s been to date in imposing policies that would affect all Americans’ access to finance, investment, or banking services, it’s that he took this extraconstitutional action at all.  It’s a power move against the quiescent financial liberty we are supposed to have.

He has bailed out the automakers for the transparent purpose of propping up unsustainable union pensions.  Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have been talking for months now about seizing private 401(k)s as a means of “redistributing” the retirement investments of the individually provident to the union-represented.

He has forced through Congress a health care “reform” package that is already starting to drive the remaining vestiges of private enterprise and market forces out of our health care system – and the only result of this can be increased dependence on government-provided, government-rationed medical care for all but the most fabulously wealthy Americans.

He promises to pass a Cap-and-Trade bill that would enable government to make money for itself and its cronies, off of an atmospheric carbon index that can never conceivably be reduced below the nominal threshold for ending this rent-seeking scheme.  Not only does it guarantee income flows for the rest of time, it grants centralized control of how each of us gets to live to government bureaucrats.

He has nationalized the student loan business, which will mean more federal control, in almost all universities and colleges in the country, of exactly the kinds of intellectual issues that ought to be freely debated.  Government won’t need to inquire into the thoughts of prospective student borrowers; threatening the institutions with the loss of loan support for their students will be more efficient and effective anyway.

He has appointed dozens of special advisers – “Czars” – to expand exponentially the regulatory purview of the federal executive, and these Czars are uniformly of a Marxist-socialist, interventionist bent.  His “Pay Czar” arbitrarily set limits on compensation for executives in the finance industry, overruling a Congressional provision for that compensation in the process – a beautiful illustration of what extraconstitutional powers the Obama administration will exercise wherever it “bails out” private institutions.

And of course, he has racked up $3 trillion in new federal debt with his unprecedentedly colossal spending – and for what?  Huge chunks of his “stimulus” spending have gone to pay off political supporters with government contracts that are of no use to the American people as a whole, as well as to projects like “keeping teachers in the classroom” who weren’t even going to be pink-slipped in the first place.  For all the promises of infrastructure development, what the people are actually seeing is a repaving here and a wind-farm or solar-panel-farm subsidy there – when what we need is more lanes on our highways; more, and more efficient, drilling and refining of oil and gas; and three dozen new nuclear power plants in at least the licensing phase.

But in all his spending, he has found it important to makes cuts mainly to the Defense Department.  He and his party have also held the continuation of the Bush tax cuts hostage for political purposes, putting every American in a state of suspended financial animation as we await the white smoke signal on our federal tax future come 1 January.

More and more voters are so far from “inchoate,” they’d have to find the best fare on Travelocity to get there by the weekend.  They know exactly why they want to tie Obama’s hands.  They aren’t confused about why his agenda isn’t working to improve the economy.  Unlike Howard Kurtz, they know why – and that’s why he has to be stopped.  Howard Kurtz has made a praiseworthy effort to introduce balance in the public discussion, but he’s still using an anachronistic lexicon that has no power to describe what’s going on.  The ruts in which he and most members of the MSM think are the wagon tracks of history now, and we know where they lead.

Voters are increasingly aware that we are not waiting to find out what mix of officious government intervention “works.”  We already know the answer to that question.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JT, J.E. Dyer. J.E. Dyer said: How to Misunderstand Voters for Fun and Profit: Latest from TOC on a good try, with lexicon problems, by Howard Kurtz… […]

  2. For the reasons you spell out in this post J.E., I would take a Christine O’Donnell over a Chris Coons in the Senate every day of the week and twice on Sunday. C O’D may not be the ideal candidate and it looks like the Delaware voters will send her packing. Voters usually want a politician who “does things.” However, she’s a politician who is more like to do *nothing* (under the “first, do no damage” principle). And that’s essentially what I want – especially with the massive govt overreach we’ve had under Obama. More than ever, I want the politicians to get the hell out of the way and let us live our lives with govt as an afterthought and not front and center.

    With all the dreadful and oppressive laws and regulations that now burden us, we’ll need to start repealing. Don’t add, subtract. C O’D will adhere to that principal and to me, that trumps whether she dabbled in witchcraft or isn’t a great candidate.

    By the way, wouldn’t it have been a great idea if C O’D adopted the theme song to Bewitched for her campaign? After all the witch nonsense and her dismissal of it as youthful indiscretion, I think people would have warmed up to her both laughing at herself and mocking her detractors by adopting that theme song.

  3. Perfect post! We send these people to Congress to SERVE us, not to become members of the club. I’m completely unimpressed with the vaunted “reaching across the aisle” our senators boast of. If I wanted what’s across the aisle I’d vote democrat. With every reach across the aisle our liberties shrink a little more.

    I’ll say Allo! here, not knowing if you have time to read email.

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