They Won’t Even Get Out of the Way

From last month’s Harper’s Index:

Percentage of Americans who said in November that the Valerie Plame leak scandal was of “great importance”: 51

Percentage who said, two months before President Nixon resigned, that Watergate was “very serious”: 49

Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130

Percentage approval rating of Bill Clinton the day after impeachment and George W. Bush in November, respectively: 73, 37

Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37

The Bush Administration is in serious trouble, or it would be if anyone were listening to those it represents. Even some Republicans are dissatisfied with the Administration’s conduct. Yet as Media Matters for America, among others, continues to document day in and day out, the press doesn’t seem to be interested in the now all but undeniable view that the current Administration is the least well regarded since the Civil War, and perhaps ever. I really don’t think the press can be called any sort of check on power with a straight face (though folks certainly seem to be willing to go around and around on whether or not the press has a liberal bias), and not only is Congress not leading, but they don’t even seem to be following the sentiments of those they represent.

How is this possible? This isn’t how things are supposed to work in a republic. Have we just become too affluent and comfortable to care? Have the politicians realized that they don’t have to follow polls, that opinions expressed, no matter how divergent from their own, will never translate into action?

2 Replies to “They Won’t Even Get Out of the Way”

  1. I don’t think we’re “too affluent and comfortable to care,” by a long shot. Most Americans, on most indicators, are feeling pinched and hard-up-against-it these days. We’d acclimated in recent decades to first-world living standards. But jobs aren’t secure these days and healthcare isn’t affordable; schools are crummy, families are disintigrating, and crime is a continuing bugbear. The people who voted for Bush, well, that could be about a number of things. One thing it could be about is the desire of a demoralized populace to cleave to an illusion of a mighty leader/father-figure, rather than facing the hard reality of his betrayal.

    As to the matter of arrogance and impunity in big politics, in the face of contrary popular sentiment–don’t look now, but we just might be seeing some cracks in the plaster. The internet is a mighty powerful tool in the hands of activists, and it’s new enough that all its potentials haven’t been explored. An organization like MoveOn.org can gather 200,000 petition signatures, literally, in 24 hours. This has serious ramifications, as we’ve seen, for Republicans in Washington trying to ram through odious legislation. They’re on-guard, they’re nervous. And with very good reason.

    As for Bush himself, and his seeming denial of his own low popularity, remember, Carter offered his electorate assurances when his poll numbers hit rock-bottom. Bush’s might be a special case, due to factors concerning his personal temperament. His denial is uniquely entrenched, and for this reason, I don’t envy him. I see only deepening troubles ahead for his adminstation. In this sense, I believe there will be some kind of payoff, maybe karmic, for his indifference to popular will.

  2. Perhaps complacent would be a better word than affluent. Yes, people are struggling economically, but if asked, they would say that they have it better than the citizens of any other nation. Yet it has been a long time since the average American was richer, healthier, or freer than the average citizen of every other nation. In fact, measured in any way other than military or cultural hegemony, it’s very difficult to claim that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world. However, that’s not what most Americans believe, and as long as they believe that they’re better off than non-Americans, grassroots political efforts will lack urgency and effectiveness.

    We’ve come to believe that simply having an opinion (about politics, television programs, contestants on American Idol, whatever), which will be solicited from us in good order, is all that’s necessary to effect change. We’ve become spoiled by the notion that if the majority disagree with something, it will magically change. (And putting your signature on an Internet petition or standing in a public place and expressing your opinion is effectively little more than having an opinion.) To its dubious credit, the Bush Administration has figured out that they can simply ignore those opinions and their expressions without consequence. Americans have no idea what to do when having an opinion has no effect. This Administration has called our collective bluff, and I don’t see anyone (myself included) with an appropriate response to that audacity. Certainly Congress and the press, who many would regard as the first checks on Presidential abuse of power, don’t seem to have that response.

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