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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Political parties distract from Americans’ populist preferences

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., April 27, 28 or 29

If you were camping and decided to put one foot in a working Coleman cook stove and the other in a fully-stocked ice chest, on AVERAGE you’d be comfy.

Likewise, political and media labels that average Americans’ “middle of the road” preferences (and, often, elections) misinterpret what we want our representatives to do. Someone can want an end to U.S. military interventions and expanded Medicare-for-all health insurance while also favoring fossil fuels and the deportation of all undocumented immigrants. That’s not middle of the road; that’s straddling both sides of the right of way, fence post to fence post.

So it goes with the nation, which polls show has populist positions on many subjects while sometimes electing conservatives. Take Montana, which voted for GOP candidate Mitt Romney over President Obama, 55 to 42 percent, yet recently pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pass Medicaid expansion.

“The passage of Medicaid expansion in Montana was an unlikely defeat for the Koch brothers, who came in as heavy favorites and spent a fortune trying to kill the measure,” said Montana’s Deputy Secretary of State Eric Stern. “Sadly for the Kochs, 70,000 poor people in Montana will now get medical care.”

In Illinois the disconnect between reality and conventional wisdom showed in the turnout in April’s election. Less than 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, maybe because candidates hadn’t discussed positions that citizens want. Further, an overwhelming percentage of voters in 2014 elected Republican Bruce Rauner governor and also voted for requiring health insurance to include prescription birth control and for enacting a new 3-percent tax on millionaires.

Conventional wisdom say most of us are “moderates” then, but polls show otherwise, from widespread support of Social Security to a host of issues. American majorities (by these polled percentages) favor raising the minimum wage (71: CNN), providing paid sick leave and maternity leave (74 and 61: HuffPost), investing in infrastructure (75: NBC/Wall Street Journal), free community college (63: The Hill), addressing the serious problem of climate change (69: Washington Post/ABC), strengthening education from Pre-K to college (62: Hart Research Associates); raising taxes on corporations and the rich (79: Pew), reforming immigration law (62: Brookings Institution), paying equal wages for equal work (81: Lake Research), restoring the Voting Rights Act (69: Scripps Howard), worrying that U.S. military interventions could make conflicts worse (79: CNN/ORC); and approving of labor unions (53: Gallup).

By these percentages, we oppose indulging Wall Street (80: Hart), giving the 1% preferential treatment (56: NBC/Wall Street Journal), and racism, including in the criminal-justice system (54: Washington Post/ABC).

“Americans are looking for change and in area after area, bold populist reform policies enjoy majority support,” reported Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “Politicians embracing populist reforms aren’t moving to the Left or the Right; they are moving to the center of American opinion.”

Conversely, Republicans’ and President Obama’s zealous promotion of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact just doesn’t excite Americans; only 20 percent think it’s an urgent priority (Wall Street Journal). And TPP and its “fast-track” consideration (with no amendments and only an up-or-down vote by Congress) is opposed by 62 percent (Hart).

Most Americans have common-sense, progressive opinions, but hot-button topics skew electoral outcomes. Competing narratives such as sexual preference or gun rights, incompetent political parties failing to express options, and too many politicians deferring to actions benefiting wealthy campaign contributors, all sabotage government representing constituents.

“The President and the Democratic Party are almost as dependent on big money as the Republicans,” wrote University of Texas government professor Walter Dean Burnham and University of Massachusetts political scientist Thomas Ferguson in AlterNet.

Ferguson on Real News Network added, “You’ve been running these sort of big money-driven elections for quite some time, and it’s policy disappointment that’s driving down the voter turnout. It would make more sense “to do something for the population instead of the 1 percent.”

There’s hope.

“The struggle between a people’s politics and the politics of money is growing,” Borosage said. “Increasingly, Americans realize that they are not suffering from circumstances; they are getting fleeced. Broad, but passive, opinions are turning into pressing demands – and Washington and Wall Street are just beginning to feel the heat.”

Indeed, the Congressional job approval rating this spring remained low: just 18 percent of us think Capitol Hill is handling its job well (Gallup).

[PICTURED: Robert Borosage, AFL-CIO photo.]

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