A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gridlock helped sour voters’ mood

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 22, 23 or 24

Americans’ mood on the economy and politics is sour, and much of it stems from Capitol Hill gridlock organized by Republican leaders and some for-profit corporations’ “war” on workers.

One can’t help but picture a conniving villain rubbing his hands together and cackling, “This is all going according to plan!”

That’s not far from the truth. Conservative William Kristol in The Weekly Standard in July wrote, “If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there’s no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the President to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the President. Republican incumbents won’t have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they’ll make. Republican challengers won’t have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the President.”

Kristol was addressing the border crisis of thousands of immigrant children, but it echoes the strategy expressed early in Obama’s first term, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.”

Obama concedes that too many people remain too close to poverty and calls for raising the federal minimum wage, but he also claims solid, if slow, economic progress.

However, a Federal Reserve report out last month shows how regular people’s outlook on their financial situation is dismal. The Fed’s “Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making” reveals long-term consequences of the deepest economic downturn in decades. More than 40 percent of respondents say they’d delayed big purchases and 18 percent said they postponed major life decision like buying a home or getting married because of the economy.

The report says, "More than half of those surveyed said they had dipped into their savings as a result of the recession, and more than a third reported 'going without some form of medical care' for financial reasons."

Elsewhere, a survey by Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development shows only 16 percent of people believe things will improve for the next generation (compared to 56 percent in 1999). Also, 78 percent say they have "not much" or "no confidence at all" that government would make things better (more than 59 percent in 2009).

Just as Congressional gridlock ignores what many people would consider important priorities – from infrastructure and education to defense and “domestic tranquility,” that strategy victimizes all Americans touched by Congress’ contemptible action – or lack of action.

But it’s had an effect. Voters are sick and tired of politics, feeling powerless more than angry.

“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” according to a new report from Benjamin Page from Northwestern and Martin Gilens from Princeton, who analyzed about 1,800 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence that the 1%, Big Business, mass-constituency groups, and everyday people have on them.

Their material comes from feedback gathered between 1981 and 2002 – before the financial meltdown and bailout of Wall Street, before Supreme Court decisions like “Citizens United,” and before the worst “do-nothing” Congress in U.S. history. But it points to a decades-long attack on the middle class that, combined with stagnating wages, moving jobs overseas, and union-busting, has resulted in families having less time and fewer groups to which people belong.

Whether union locals or church associations, Kiwanis clubs or neighborhood groups, such organizations with mass constituencies used to make up a countervailing force politicians listened to.

However, “political parties stopped representing the views of most constituents,” writes former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “As the costs of campaigns escalated, parties morphed from state- and local-membership organizations into national fund-raising machines. We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments.”

Still, accepting a “you can’t fight City Hall” mentality or surrendering to the “inevitability” of economic or political doom won’t help our standard of living or economic justice, a responsive republic or responsible elected officials.

“The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money,” Reich said. “The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor and our votes. If we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

[PICTURED: Republican Senate Leader McConnell depicted as if Congress had sponsor logos like NASCAR drivers. Graphic from]

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