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Sunday, June 22, 2008

"People are Really Angry at George Bush"

We keep hearing from Republicans that the economy is doing well, but the media has left people with the opposite impression. I think Republicans are correct, they should ignore what the polls are telling them, keep insisting that people have been manipulated by that evil liberal media and that things are actually great, continue to appear insensitive to the situation faced by typical households, propose little in the way of help, and actively oppose policies proposed by political opponents directed at helping middle and lower income households. It's a winning strategy - for Democrats:

Can Republicans Win In This Environment?, by Stan Collender [Creative Commons]: I've been traveling much of the past two weeks for work. Nine cities, seven states, and close to 30 presentations about the election and the economy.

What I'm about to say is based purely on anecdotal information. It is not meant to be statistically significant or a good sample. And my audiences were anything but a good cross section of the general population.

But my conclusion is as straight forward as possible: Americans, or at least those I spoke to and with, are very very angry.

Their anger initially seemed to be directed at specific things. Understandably, gasoline prices always seemed to be the first thing mentioned, for example. In fact, the economy in general was a constant source of anger. No one I spoke with over the past few days seems to be looking at the current economic situation as positive. Costs are going up, jobs are going down, inflation is rising, housing is unsettled, investment opportunities are limited, etc.

People are really angry at George Bush.

Democratic anger is expected. But die hard Republicans are angry with him for screwing up what they not too long ago saw as a generation of GOP power. I can't tell you the number of times over the past two weeks when someone started a conversation by saying "I voted for George Bush but..."

But the biggest source of anger I picked up during my travels was because of what I'll call a perceived loss of swagger. Whether it was Texas, Oregon, California, or Minnesota, a whole bunch of folks seem angry about what they feel is a loss of prestige and power for the United States. Most often mentioned was:

  • The war
  • The dollar
  • The economy
  • Immigration
  • Financial markets
  • Gasoline
  • Perceived loss of power overseas
  • Poor performance of the U.S. military

...and what seems to be a sense that it's going to be tougher in the future to do well.

I don't mean tougher to get rich; few people talked about that as an option. But relatively simple things  that many Americans have always been able to do and seemed relatively easy -- like buying and selling a home -- now appear to be real concerns for many people.

But what they're angry about isn't the specifics. It's the fact that everything seems to be so much harder than it used to be.

And the fact that they have fewer choices. They can't take the flights they want, can't sell or buy a house if they want, and have to think twice before buying the types of things they've always bought in the past.

My guess is this is why almost 80% of those polled now say the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction. The individual pieces like gas prices are less important than the overall feeling that life has gotten much more difficult.

My first conclusion from this very unscientific research is that it's going to be very hard for Republicans to win this November if this doesn't change soon. Whether it's fair or not, George Bush and his political party are being held responsible for this feeling. GOP candidates may not campaign with Bush this fall, but he'll be an albatross with them every step of the way nonetheless.

My second conclusion is that, whoever he is, the next president won't have much time to turn this around. If something doesn't change by the end of 2009, Congress and the country may run away from the president in 2010.

My travels continue next week. More from the road.

"Whether it's fair or not, George Bush and his political party are being held responsible for this feeling."

Whether they deserve it or not, the administration would have gleefully taken credit if things had gone well - there' be no end to the testimonials we would have heard on the wonders of tax cuts if the economy was booming right now. Given the administration's willingness to take credit when the economy fares well, is it unfair to take credit away when things don't go so well?

If the administration promises that, say, tax cuts will pay for themselves, that they will lift all boats, produce a higher level of economic growth, won't reduce the progressiveness of the tax system, etc., and then that doesn't happen, then I think it's fair to hold the administration and others who supported the policies accountable for making claims about the benefits of the policies that didn't come true. The claims were part of the sales package for the policy, and they helped to bring the policies about, so a penalty to discipline the behavior when those benefits don't actually materialize seems appropriate and fair.

Update: anon/portly in comments:

"If the administration promises that, say, tax cuts will pay for themselves, that they will lift all boats, produce a higher level of economic growth, won't reduce the progressiveness of the tax system, etc., and then that doesn't happen, then I think it's fair to hold the administration and others who supported the policies accountable for making claims about the benefits of the policies that didn't come true."

A good thought, in my view, but is it a germane thought in this context? I can't see a hint of a mention by Collender of anyone being angry over the tax cuts.

I don't know how comforting it is that people are upset over things like gasoline prices, "investment opportunities are limited," "can't take the flights they want," "can't sell or buy a house if they want," and immigration. And in addition to not mentioning tax cuts, Collender doesn't mention finding people angry over civil liberties/torture issues either. Or inequality....

Yes, if I could write it again I might focus more on the administration's lack of attention to the problems faced by middle and lower class households. Even if policy can't fix everything, the feeling that the administration is on your side, not the side of the wealthy or business, that it's focused on the problems that matter to you and doing it's best to resolve them goes a long way. It's certainly better than if the administration acts like you hardly exist. Perhaps it's quite reasonable for people to blame this administration for not making their difficulties more of a priority instead of denying that they exist. As I look back over the term of this administration, I don't feel as though the administration was devoted to solving the problems facing the typical household, other things had a much higher priority, and that feeling that the administration had other priorities could lead to the kinds of frustrations with economic conditions that we are seeing. The administration can't solve all the problems, or perhaps even very many, but just knowing they are doing their best to help families with their day to day struggles would have gone a long way toward reducing the public's frustration with the administration.

    Posted by on Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 02:43 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (49)

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