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Explain it to me

September 15, 2008

President Bush and the Republican party have controlled Washington for much of the last eight years. During those years we have begun an unnecessary war. That war has been prosecuted badly. A lot of people are dead, and it’s not clear if anything much has been accomplished in terms of our national security. The economy is circling the drain. We’re bailing out industries who overreached because of lax regulation. Unemployment has cracked 6% and may go higher. Worker productivity has risen, but no rise in middle class incomes has accompanied it. The budget deficit has reached historic highs. The federal response to hurricane Katrina was shameful. They have implemented policies of warrantless spying, secret prisons and torture. It’s not surprising, then, that our Republican president has the lowest disapproval rating in history. Similarly, 80% of the country believe we’re heading in the wrong direction. I think it is fair to say that we can now see what Republican policies bring us: economic downturn, war and an erosion of civil rights. They’ve had their shot, and nobody seems very pleased with the result.

So why is it that McCain is polling as well as he is? Can it really be that he’s so completely and effectively distanced himself from his own party and its failed policies? I do get that he’s “mavericky,” that he’s the anti-GOP Republican. But how in hell is this man defying so much gravity? What am I missing?

Sure, he’s a Vietnam war hero. (I don’t know if you knew that or not.) But other than his admirable service record, he’s not a very inspirational guy. He looks like a grumpy old man and he sounds like he’s telling us all to get off his lawn. What cartoon physics are keeping this Wile E. Coyote from plummeting to the bottom of the canyon?

I still predict an Obama win. I just wish I understood this phenomenon.

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  1. Perhaps it is because you are out of touch with some Americans. I am not trying to be snarky here (I plead guilty to past snarkiness though). Not everyone subscribes to that gloomy view that you put forth. That view may be popular among your friends and co-workers, but many people don’t see Republicans and conservatism as evil. Have you noticed that the approval rating of the Democrat Congress was as low as 9%?

    Bush was slow to respond to changes on the ground in Iraq, but things there are looking up since the surge. What a great leap for freedom it would be if Iraq became the Arab world’s first free democratic secular nation. Some people agree with that idea… and they are not a bunch of rich oil barons, they are average people like me.

    6.0% unemployment is far from a disaster. It was 7.0% in 1993, and as high as 11% in the early 80’s. Interest rates are low (remember double digit mortgages in the 70s?). Sanity is returning to mortgage lending. People who over-borrowed are in trouble, but that is not representative of most Americans.

    You cite only the Federal response to Katrina. Mississippi bore the brunt of Katrina and yet they fared better than Louisiana. It was the shamefully slow and disorganized state and local response in Louisiana that caused much of the problem. Your issue is that you see Bush and his administration to be at fault. The Feds support emergency services… they do not provide them. FEMA did not to plan ahead and relied solely on a solid local command structure, which failed in NOLA. Since Katrina and 9-11, the Bush Administration has moved the whole nation toward a unified Incident Command System to prevent the re-occurrence of a Katrina. The new ICS is allowing unprecedented new levels of mutual aid nationwide. Thank you Mr. Bush. (Who cares… I know. I work in emergency services, so I apologize for the wonky prattle)

    We don’t all see just doom and gloom caused by Bush. Some of us don’t have a negative view of conservatives. Some of us are religious. Some of us own guns. Some of us are proud of America. Some of us don’t mind extra security. Some of us like our SUVs and Minivans. Some of us see brighter days ahead. Some of us are proud to see a woman on the ticket as a role model for our little daughters. Some of us are just average folks, and we can see through the rhetoric. Some us think that one candidate might just be more interested in looking out for us than the other candidate is.


  2. Have you noticed that the approval rating of the Democrat Congress was as low as 9%?

    Yes. But I suspect that this phenomenon is mostly due to their inability to reign in Bush and end the war. That and the fact that something like 40% of Americans polled didn’t know Democrats even controlled it.

    things there are looking up since the surge.

    Well, violence is certainly down, and everyone’s for that. But has it had it’s intended purpose? Namely, has it created ‘space’ for the political reconciliations necessary for a peaceful nation once our forces are gone? I’m not so sure we’re closer to that goal than we were a year, two years, or three years ago.

    What a great leap for freedom it would be if Iraq became the Arab world’s first free democratic secular nation. Some people agree with that idea

    I agree with that idea myself. But wishing it and achieving it are two different things. So far, I’m not convinced that the mountain of money and all the death and destruction has bought us such an outcome. And even if it does, I’m not sure if it will have been worth it, given that such an end might also have been fostered with less violent and less costly means.

    Bottom line is, the war us unpopular. Most people think it was a bad idea and waged poorly. And most people think we should get out of there instead of staying in this costly and bloody holding pattern we’ve been in for all these years. Whether we are right or wrong isn’t the issue; the issue is that, given that most people feel this way, why is it not negatively affecting the Republican candidate?

    6.0% unemployment is far from a disaster.

    You sound like McCain when he says the fundamentals of our economy are strong. Whether they are or they aren’t, people are hurting and that kind of response is unbelievably tone deaf. People are losing their homes, man. I don’t see how this isn’t translating into bad news for the party that’s been in control.

    You cite only the Federal response to Katrina.

    Because that’s the only one relevant to national politics.

    Some of us don’t have a negative view of conservatives.

    But most of us do. Which is why I’m puzzled over the numbers McCain the candidate has. When you ask about Republicans and Democrats you see numbers more like what I’m expecting: a generic Democrat is trouncing a generic Republican. how is McCain dodging this?

    Basically what you’re doing in your above comment is arguing with me and with the American people. Maybe we’re all wrong about everything. But the point is, given the fact that most people see things this way, why isn’t McCain doing worse than he is? This question you have not answered.


  3. I’m guessing you have slapped your head in wonder on occasion about some nice conservative person you know: “that so-and-so, he’s so nice, he’s so kind, I can’t believe he’s a Republican!!” If you haven’t said or thought this yourself, I’ll bet you’ve heard other liberal friends or acquaintances say it.

    The truth is, the “nice conservatives” you know are not an aberration. Conservatives as a group are not evil. They are not stupid or uneducated. They are not rednecks. They are not holy rolling Bible thumpers. They do not have a burning desire to dump toxic waste into your backyard. They do not want to kill your grandma. They do not relish war. They are not fascists. They are not racists. They are not misogynists. They, we, as a group, are not evil.

    Only when you free yourself from these misconceptions about conservatives will you be able to gain the understanding you seek. Liberals and conservatives both want good things for our country and the world around us. We all want peace, low crime, good education, and all that good stuff. Most of our disagreements come in the means of how we get there.

    But to get to specifics: The “economic downturn, war, and erosion of civil rights” you speak of, where they exist, were not caused by the Evil Bush. Those problems were brought to our shores by terrorist extremists who attacked our country and killed thousands of innocent people. Don’t forget: there has not been another attack on American soil since 9/11. That is a fact that most Americans are happy about. And unless you are suspected of terrorism or being in the mafia, your civil rights are not in any danger.

    By the way, I don’t know about since Katrina, but at the time of Katrina, the Federal Government did not have the authority to take over emergency relief in Louisiana unless Louisiana asked. For four days, President Bush offered help and the (Democrat) governor of Louisiana refused it. The people of Louisiana recognized who screwed up and elected a better (Republican) governor.

    This topic could fill a book. So I’ll wrap it up. Put simply, many believe Senator McCain will make a better President than Senator Obama. Senator Obama is not ready. He is in over his head. After another term or two in the Senate, maybe, but now, he is way too inexperienced. And his plan on “how to get there” is not one that most Americans agree with.


  4. Scott, you miss the answer to your question in your very response to me. You wanted to know why McCain is ahead even though your whole social network is telling you that it is impossible. Your instinct was to argue that all my points are wrong and that McCain is out of touch, but many folks outside your circle don’t feel that way. You think only as a partisan, while most Americans do not. The evidence is that they see McCain and Palin as their champions, rather than Obama, whom they see as elitist and disingenuous. Obama has not had to play on the main stage in his career and speaking to the party faithful is different from speaking to average Americans. You can argue all the liberal talking points you like, but the fact remains that those unwashed, bible and gun clinging Americans have been very offended by the way that Obama’s people look at them and mock their values and beliefs. I am a union member, and a lot of members of my union do not like Obama one bit….though most of them are Democrats. It makes for lively coffee breaks….trust me.

    If you look at non-partisan polling data with specific questions, you will see that people, though they do not like war, want victory and democracy in Iraq. Polls show that while many people think that others are doing poorly economically, they see themselves as secure. Your friends may dislike Republicans, but I imagine there are conservatives at your university. They do not make themselves known for fear of the poor treatment they will receive from their colleagues. Average Americans do not dislike conservatives or conservative ideals. Direct issue polling shows this to be true.

    You need to broaden your horizons a bit before you can understand this. The very reason that McCain is popular is that while many on the left hold views similar to yours, those views are not the same as mainstream America. No insult intended…I am just trying to answer your question.


  5. Unfortunately, so much perception is shaped by the media, and its willingness to tell the narrative it’s settled upon. This seems to be a rare year in that there do seem to some reporters who actually are reporting the lies of the McCain camp as lies, and not simply as he-said, she-said, which has been their practice in the Rove years particularly.

    It’s funny to hear TFG say that Obama is an elitist, while the admiral’s son married to the heiress is a man of the people, no doubt in the same way that George the Stupid and his father the pork rind eater are men are of the people, salt of the earth. What that speaks to is the fact that propaganda works very, very well. So much so that a genius like TFG actually believes it. That depresses the hell out of me, because it’s entirely likely that a miserable candidate like McCain may well win this election, bringing along an unqualified political hack who happens to have a uterus (no offense intended to anyone who likes unqualified political hacks.)

    McCain is no hero. He was a POW who responded admirably in that situation, much as many Americans would. That is no qualification for president. Not much in his record really is, and that he sells himself as an agent of change is laughable. But what’s devastating is that in this age of low-information voters and Republican TV networks and talk radio pumping the propaganda, it may well not matter how miserable St. John is.


  6. Snabby actually brings up a good example, though I don’t think he realizes it. Many common folks have been upset by the quantity and intensity of the attacks on Gov. Palin (not that they came from Obama necessarily). Again, regardless of your personal opinion, polls are showing that the more she is attacked, the greater her personal appeal becomes. People don’t see Sarah Palin as an evil, book banning, anti-feminist, inexperienced political hack. People see their families in her. People see McCain as a champion against the abuses of government. There are some awesome new likeability polls out that tell a story as well. When asked, “If you had to make the toughest decision of your life, who would you want to advise you”, 76% of Republicans, 18% of Democrats and 44% of independents said McCain. Obama got 67% of Democrats, 4% of Republicans and 21% of independents. That bodes ill for Obama. 1 in 5 members of his own party did not choose him, while McCain led 2-1 among independents.

    Obama’s message of “change” is making people ask, “What are you going to change it to?” (Cathy Carnes in Reader’s Digest). He has been off his game since Gov. Palin was announced as VP. Also, while he is an accomplished public speaker and speech reader, speaking extemporaneously, as in a debate or town hall meeting, is not his strong suit. He has also made a bumble or two recently that got some press…the “above my pay grade” gaffe on abortion and not knowing or not remembering that Russia had veto power on the UN Security Council when he spoke about the Russian attack on Georgia.

    It all adds up in the McCain column for the moment.


  7. They, we, as a group, are not evil.

    No, you’re not evil. You’re just wrong. I’m not confused about that at all.

    Liberals and conservatives both want good things for our country and the world around us.

    Please take this message to some of your conservative friends, who over the last few years have called their left-leaning neighbors unpatriotic traitors.

    The “economic downturn, war, and erosion of civil rights” you speak of, where they exist, were not caused by the Evil Bush.

    The economic downturn was, in large measure, brought about by a deregulation of the banking and mortgage industries. While there are many Democrats guilty of going along with these schemes, the deregulation of business and industry is a mainstay of American conservatism. These failed policies are resting more firmly on your doorstep than on ours. Likewise, the war was sold to congress and the American people by the Bush administration. There were some hawkish Democrats who bear responsibility for going along with it. But frankly, I suspect most of those were just spineless idiots who were afraid to go against Bush and his apologists lest they be called unpatriotic in the climate of rampant anger, jingoism and xenophobia that his administration deliberately fostered in the months after 9/11. Ditto the erosion of civil rights. Democrats shirked their responsibility to stop it, but some stood up against it. Namely our own Russ Feingold, a Democrat.

    I don’t know about since Katrina

    No, you don’t. Not if you find the federal response to it blameless, as your comment seems to indicate.

    Senator Obama is not ready.

    Actually, you might have something there. Perhaps this is why he’s not pulling way ahead.

    You wanted to know why McCain is ahead even though your whole social network is telling you that it is impossible.

    No, you have it wrong. It’s not my “social network” that is telling me this. In fact, I read far more conservative blogs than liberal ones. I make a point not to demonize my Republican friends and neighbors. I listen to them. Even more to the point, I’m drawing my information not from those in my social circle, but from empirical sources such as opinion polls. It’s a fact that people have a more favorable opinion of Democratic solutions right now. It’s a fact that all the fundamentals of this election cycle are against McCain, as his party has been in power for much of the time during this slide into war and economic downturn.

    Obama, whom they see as elitist

    That makes me laugh. How did you guys turn a Chicago south sider, raised middle class by a single mother, who achieved his success by his own efforts and ability into an “elitist”?

    TFG, I think you’re mistaking something fundamental about my post. I’m not marveling at McCain’s popularity because it doesn’t match what my tight-knit circle of liberal elitists think. (I have no such circle, in fact.) But because of the record of his party over the last eight years, and where it has taken us, and the fact that people are extremely unhappy about it.

    People don’t see Sarah Palin as an evil, book banning, anti-feminist, inexperienced political hack.

    Actually, I think that’s what quite a number of people see in her.

    There are some awesome new likeability polls out

    Are we again going to elect the president we’d most like to have a beer with? Please say that American politics is about more than this.


  8. The question about advice from a candidate is quite telling. Americans are making a value judgment regarding the wisdom and believability of each candidate. Obama is full of wonderful promises and billions in aid for every issue and massive tax reductions for all, even as his aid promises reach the trillion-dollar mark. People are beginning to suspect Obama can’t possibly deliver everything for nothing. McCain shows up as being more believable.

    I do know about post Katrina, and to hold FEMA solely responsible for the mess created by the lackluster performance of the Louisiana Governor and the AWOL mayor of New Orleans is just politics and Bush bashing. FEMA is a management agency. They have no rescuers; they have no busses for evacuation. They rely on state and municipal agencies. When those fail, you have local leadership to blame. That is why no horror stories came from Mississippi. FEMA’s fault was that they had no plan to deal with a failure of local government. Now they do. Note that the NOLA mayor set up his Katrina command in a luxury hotel in Texas (while 2/3 of his police and fire departments simply vanished). Governor Blanco took 24 hours to review FEMA aid options, did not pre-mobilize her 8000 National Guardsmen (The AR National Guard had boots on the ground before the LA Guard did), and she waited 4 days to admit that her command structure had failed and to authorize a federal take over of command. Place proper blame where it belongs and quit using Katrina as a political tool. There was plenty of governmental failure to go around. — end of rant —

    Lastly, the banking failure began with the Community Redevelopment Act. It was a well-intended means to help minorities purchase homes…created under the Carter Administration (The king of unintended consequences). Bill Clinton turbocharged the Act by adding regulations to force lenders into high-risk areas by lowering lending standards and adding penalties for non-compliance. That bit of social engineering created a breeding ground for predatory lenders while placing the weight of the high-risk loans on the backs of the banks and taxpayers. Blame those evil greedy Republicans that you hate so visibly, if it makes you feel good. Again, place proper blame where it belongs…on the back of that donkey in the living room.


  9. No, you don’t. Not if you find the federal response to it blameless, as your comment seems to indicate.

    …at the time of Katrina, the Federal Government did not have the authority to take over emergency relief in Louisiana unless Louisiana asked. For four days, President Bush offered help and the (Democrat) governor of Louisiana refused it. The people of Louisiana recognized who screwed up and elected a better (Republican) governor…


  10. Look, I’m not arguing that state and local officials screwed up with Katrina. What I’m saying is that the federal response under Michael Brown (a shockingly unqualified person) was also problematic. And the point is, the federal piece of this is what is relevant to national politics.

    And, no, the banking failure didn’t begin with the CRA. In fact, I just heard a very cogent and definitive refutation of that accusation on the radio this morning by a professor of history and economics from Concordia. If I recall his answer correctly, he said it was quite obviously not the crux of the problem as the CRA only affected a small number of the institutions that are now failing. Nice try, though. (Where do you guys get these talking points? Limbaugh? Hannity? I know you guys aren’t just sitting around being CRA experts in your spare time to just pop out with these things all in unison…)


  11. Where do you guys get these talking points? Limbaugh? Hannity?

    No, I prefer to listen to NPR, since I have to pay for it anyway.

    But seriously… I think this is what you’d call a swipe, not a reasoned argument.


  12. Really, nothing about Katrina is relevant to the Presidential election… unless you want to point out the reckless way in which hundreds of millions of dollars of relief was squandered on scams without any federal oversight of who got what. That would lead me to believe that just throwing money at a problem would never work.

    The Community Redevelopment Act was forced upon banks by the Clinton administration. The Democrats tied a CRA mandate to the financial services reform bill. The Republicans did not want to include that provision. Check out the Annual Review of Banking Law (starting on page 8). Banks were concerned about the lack of security in the new loans even back then. The Democrats, in a well meaning but ham-handed fashion, applied social engineering to bring diversity to housing loans. It left a gaping hole in the securities market that was filled with lenders who were out to make a buck off the sub-prime lending market. That, my friend, is the root cause of the whole thing. It was liberal regulations, not evil, greedy Republican deregulation that brought us to this point. It does not require the credentials of an expert liberal economics professor to read it yourself. While he may have had good intentions (though he put cronies Frank Raines and Jamie Gorelick in charge of Fannie Mae… they walked away with $200 million in bonuses and salary) Clinton wound up creating a cesspool of corruption. While I am sure that the professor you heard on NPR was non-partisan, the truth is still out there.


  13. It would be fascinating to hear a Republican (and I consider that a different person than a conservative, of whom there are very, very few anymore) acknowledge anything that’s gone wrong as the result of Republican mismanagement or misdeeds. No, we hear that this financial crisis was caused by a Democrat who was last president in early 1981, and turbocharged by a Democrat who was last president in early 2001. Republicans had nothing to do with it. Same as ever.

    War profiteering that Republican DDE warned about? That’s a good thing. Torture? Yep, that’s a good thing. 4th amendment? Who needs it? Unitary executive theory? Uh huh, great, so long as the president has an R after his name. Katrina response? Fault of a Democratic governor. Alberto Gonzalez doesn’t remember anything about anything as Justice becomes a wing of the RNC? Everyone does it. Too bad you guys insist that global climate change isn’t anthropogenic; otherwise you could blame it on Algore himself. Do it anyway — you’ll hate yourselves later for missing that opportunity.

    There’s a pattern, isn’t there, and it obviously prevents you guys from having anything like a reasoned argument. Basically, it boils down to Dems being wrong all the time, and Republicans being right, all the time. It is literally for you no more complicated than that, although you get your talking points with enough details for some good bamboozling.

    It’s unfortunate because it really does prevent anything like a rational debate. I don’t generally think much of Obama’s talk of postpartisanship, but getting beyond the willingness to insist that you are always right, when the odds of that are astronomically small (particularly for Republicans, in my opinion of course,) would be welcome.

    Even forgetting the climate, there are fuel shortages looming, water and food shortages looming, the economy is teetering, and the Middle East is a tinderbox. Time for working together as a country on some serious issues is way past due (is that “Kumbaya” I hear in the background?)


  14. Quote from Nancy Pelosi, when asked yesterday if Democrats bear some responsibility for what’s happening on Wall Street:

    “No”


  15. Quite interesting debate. Scott, I think I do think that your perception of events makes it difficult for you to see how others see things. I had a similar problem after Bush won the 2000 election. I just couldn’t believe so many liked Bush. Same with 2004. I learned though.
    I also think that you are forgetting that McCain was in the press and on the talk shows for basically the last 6 years making a stink on issues like immigration, earmarks, Iraq (changing strategy, then firing Rumsfeld, then the surge) then the judges/filibuster deal, campaign finance. So he’s come out looking pretty good on those issues. Then he got torn into by Limbaugh and the other loudmouths during the primaries. Many people remember that. Plus all of the people, not too unlike yourself, who always vote for the same party, no matter how dire it looks. So McCain is probably the only Republican who could be running this close. Heck, until about 3-4 days after the Palin pick (oh my what a doozy) I was torn about who to vote for and deep down favored McCain out of loyalty.


  16. […] Scott Feldstein is trying to understand John McCain’s popularity, in spite of the negative highlights of the past eight years and the current economic situation. So why is it that McCain is polling as well as he is? Can it really be that he’s so completely and… […]



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