Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An American temper tantrum

Like children, American citizens are demanding the impossible: quick, painless solutions to long-term, structural problems. To their detriment, in 2008, Democrats encouraged the electorate’s belief in magic. Once they got into office, they were forced to try to explain that things are not quite so simple -- that restructuring our economy, renewing the nation's increasingly crumbling infrastructure, reforming an unsustainable system of entitlements, redefining America's position in the world and all the other massive challenges that face the country are going to require years of effort.

But Americans did not want to hear any of this. They wanted somebody to kiss it and make it all better – right now. Compounding this problem, Republicans, in their push to get back in power, encouraged the anger.

President Obama can point to any number of occasions when he told Americans that getting our nation back on track will take years. But in 2008, his campaign stump speech ended with the exhortation, "Let's go change the world" – instead of the truer "Let's go change the world slowly and incrementally, waiting years before we see the fruits of our labor." Too many voters, especially the young, thought things could be changed quickly.

Obama should have stressed over and over again that hard work lies ahead; and it will require a degree of sacrifice from every one of us. Some sacrifices that Americans need to make to get our country moving again are:

• We need to pay more for our gas. New foundations have to be laid for a 21st-century economy, starting with weaning the nation off of its dependence on fossil fuels, which means there will have to be an increase in the price of oil. I do not want to pay more to fill my gas tank, but I know that it would be good for the nation if I did.

• The richest Americans need to pay higher taxes because they earn a much bigger share of the nation's income and hold a bigger share of its overall wealth. If the rich do not pay more, there will not be enough revenue to have the kind of infrastructure that fosters economic growth.

Fixing Social Security for future generations, working steadily to improve the schools, charting a reasonable path on immigration -- none of this is what the American people want to hear. Americans want quick and easy solutions to the recession and job loss that will not hurt.

The lack of American patience has caused politicians from both parties to be thrown out. Republicans got the back of the electorate's hand in 2006 and 2008 and in the 2010 primaries; Democrats felt the sting this November. By 2012, if the economy does not improve by leaps and bounds, it could be the GOP's turn to get slapped around again.

During the last two years, the Republican Party's favorability plunged to just 24 percent – lower than the Democrat Party’s 33%. Even so registered citizens voted for Republicans over Democrats giving the GOP about a 56-seat majority in the House. This put Wall Street and Banker friendly John Boehner into the Speaker's office. This is the same man who led the Republicans in the Senate to stand against anything Obama signed onto, even when it was originally a Republican idea or goal. He wants the president to fail. Period.

It really is ‘United We Stand or Divided We Fall’. The Republicans have been goading on the immature ‘I want my country back’ hotheaded-foot-stompers (or I could call them hotfooted-head-stompers) and allowing them to run the show.  If Republicans refuse to work with Democrats for the next two years so that we can get back to having serious, adult discussions (instead of schoolyard screaming matches), we are going to go through years of hell with bigoted, rightwing, immature crazies like Michelle Bachmann and Rand Paul trying to dismantle our government.

The Tea Partiers want to turn us back to the early 20th century when there was no national money provided for infrastructure, schools, police, healthcare (including Medicare), Social Security, or education. We will become a third world nation where those without much money barely survive on the edge of starvation and no healthcare – and those states that are poor will not be able to provide services – just like it was when my grandfather was young.

With Republicans now in charge of the House and Democrats barely holding onto control of the Senate, Republicans, with their constant filibuster, will likely continue to force the Democrats to have 60 votes (out of 100) lined up to pass anything. And in turn, the Democrats in the Senate will not bring anything to the floor that was passed in the House. Couple that with the hard work, sacrifice of careers, and ground work laid by the Democrats to get our economy back on track, the Republicans will take credit (and be given credit by voters) for what the Democrats did. But none of this matters to the electorate because they can only look at things in a very simple light:  If a party wins control when the economy is in a tumble, that party gets the blame. If a party wins control when the economy is on an upswing, that party gets the credit.

The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats. They wanted Obama to “kiss it and make it all better right now.” But he could not turn the economy around quickly – no one could have.

So… even though a majority of the voters understood that the Bush administration put us in this hole, they blamed the Democrats for not fixing the economy fast enough.

According to the polls, Americans were in a mood to hold their breath until they turned blue. This election was not an electoral wave. It was not a Republican mandate.

It was an immature temper tantrum.