The page has turned on another year in our democracy, and we the people again have a year of choice in front of us. There is a weed-like notion in these United States that our democracy is broken, ineffectual, corrupted, irrelevant, or all of the above. Supporting this idea are the unrealized dreams, unmet needs, and hurt feelings of most of our population. Democracy, after all, is a treacherous and finicky beast; the will of 51% makes a law that 49% may find lacking, bad, or downright evil. As a result, the collective we changes our mind with great frequency and violent efficiency.
This year, and this election, will not be decided by the will of 51% of the population or our general electoral schizophrenia. The contest won’t be decided by pollster’s registered voters or likely voters. Our future won’t be decided by the electoral college, the U.N., Chinese bankers, Bible prophesy peddlers, or ancient aliens trailed by black helicopters. The Presidential election of 2012, and all of the down-ticket contests associated with it, will be decided by people casting ballots in schools, fire-houses, and community centers from sea to shining sea. More specifically, the elections of 2012 will be decided by the working class; that broad cut of Americana that must first decide if voting matters, and must then decide for whom to vote.
Working class voters are both political enigma and golden goose. Reagan corralled many in 1980 by successfully arguing that Baptist stalwart and Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter was the weak-kneed leader of a faithless liberal horde. Pundits today talk of Saint Ronnie the Gipper’s tax policies, but Reagan Democrats weren’t attracted by a discount, they were convinced that they were buying a tougher president more aligned with their values than the incumbent. The elections of 1980 were the harbingers of the modern use of the wedge issue in politics, and the wedge in question is always, always used to divide the working class.
In 1980, Reagan’s team used the cancellation of a project with (then and now) high costs, major problems, and no real stand-alone use (the B1) to paint Carter as soft on everything. Military reality had nothing to do with the argument, but it did serve to peel away enough fiscally liberal red-blooded Americans to give the Californian the win. Since that time, almost anything that could be used to distract fiscally-liberal voters from their best interests has been; late-term abortion, sex-education in high school, upper-income marginal tax-rates, Mexicans…all are and will be effective head-fakes for the extreme right. All have, and will continue to pull voters away from their traditional liberalism and into the camp of those who think the word “liberal” is somehow soft or anti-business.
These are important facts because the majority of Americans are, still and despite what they may say, liberal. At least all of the positions that Americans support with the greatest fervor are liberal positions. During the height of the health reform battle, a majority of Americans believed that a government-run option to private health care was a good idea (ref. here, here, here). This was clearly expressed in polls even when the top-line of the poll was against the bill in question. A super-majority of Americans have consistently voiced their disapproval over rollbacks in the eligibility age for Social Security and any negative changes to either Social Security or Medicare. Multiple polls conducted prior to the bright lights of election time in 2007 found majorities and super-majorities in favor of single-payer health care in this nation. A center-right nation that supports the principle of single-payer health care? I think not.
We are still a nation of capitalists, and we cherish the ability to make it on our own. We want to live the Dream and work for ourselves, and many of us open our own businesses in search of this Dream. But this is a nation that values greatness, and all of our most cherished measures for greatness have risen above the individual. Indeed our Christian backbone values the community and the neighbor above the individual. When I hear conservative pundits like Limbaugh pontificate on “rugged individualism”, I think of what conservative stalwarts like General George Patton said in contrast:
An Army is a team…the bilious bastards who wrote about individuality in the Washington Post, don’t know anymore about fighting a war then they do about fornicating.
Hey, if it is good enough for our military heroes, it must be good enough for our economy. We fought as a nation for those things that most nations didn’t have; the hallmarks of civilization have never been the number of millionaires, but the percentage of population with clean water, and electricity, and an education, and a future. By 1980, this nation had pulled together to cinch one World War, win a second, fight an opposite ideology to a standstill, and create the most dominant and inclusive economy in the history of the world. Since 1980, we have become a nation where Wal-Mart could thrive; more interested in a tax discount than the quality commercial infrastructure that only a democratically-elected government can provide.
We accomplished the elements of national greatness because we could afford to, we could afford to accomplish the steps to greatness because we paid higher taxes, as individuals and businesses, when we earned a greater share of the Dream. There was no smoke and mirrors, no song and dance, no magic tricks. We did (and do) carry some slackers, we did (and do) deal with immigrants, we fought wars imperfectly and made foolish decisions. These are human realities; they are human realities in every system of government and taxation. But these are the realities that a small minority has used to great success to convince the working class that the problem is taxation, and the villains are poor, or Mexican, or the lazy, or abortionists, or Christians who don’t think it pays to advertise.
The market is a wonderful place, with broad powers to help any population. But it is no panacea, and its limitations are evident. In 2012, the working class must finally decide on where the marketplace must stop, and where the democracy must begin. In the democracy, we may all have but one vote, in the marketplace, we have only the money in our pockets. The amount of money the marketplace will spend on your vote this year should tell you which entity you have more influence with.
The Rational Middle is listening…