By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
Even before the midterm elections, a lot of adjectives were used to describe American voters today. They are frustrated, disappointed, dissatisfied, disillusioned, and downright angry.
To which, having seen the results, I would add two other adjectives. American voters are also fickle and dumb. This year’s election outcome proves, once again, the wisdom of H. L. Mencken: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
Voters are fickle, indeed. Yes, they want change. But it seems they want change simply for the sake of change. Americans treat elections the way couch potatoes, clicker in hand, treat television. Tired of watching this show? Hit the clicker. Three minutes later, bored again? Hit the clicker. They never give any show enough time to develop a plot or reach a conclusion.
Same with politics. How else do you explain the fact that millions of Americans elected Barack Obama in 2008 to lead this country in an entirely new direction, and yet, just 20 months later — with his entire agenda on the line — a majority of voters opted to go back where we came from? Or, even more puzzling, why 29 million Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 didn’t even show up to vote in 2010?
People say they want change. But, clearly, most Americans don’t recognize change when they see it. Although, in his first 20 months, Obama has not yet accomplished all he promised, he has delivered on a helluva lot. Women now enjoy pay equity with men. That’s a big change. The United States no longer tortures prisoners of war. Big change. All combat forces are out of Iraq. More change. To which you can add: creation of more private sector jobs than Bush delivered in eight years; health care for 32 million Americans who couldn’t previously afford it; tough new rules on credit cards and student loans; new tax credits for small business; an across-the-board middle class tax cut; and, most importantly, an economy that is rebounding daily, as opposed to one that was heading over the cliff.
That may not be all the change we want — and, clearly, the Obama White House didn’t do a good enough job selling their product — but it does add up to significant change. In only 20 months. But, again, most voters also don’t seem to realize that change, as important as it is, does take time, especially in government. Instead, they demand instant change and are quick to change course if they don’t get it.
Which is just plain dumb. This is, after all, the third “change election” in a row. Voters tossed out Republicans and put Democrats in charge of the House in 2006. Two years later, they handed the House, Senate, and White House over to Democrats. This week, they pulled a 180 and turned the House back to Republicans. With all due respect to voters, that’s not a recipe for getting anything done. That’s a recipe for disaster. That’s instant gridlock.
If we really want to get something done, we can’t change teams every two years. If we really want any president to move this country forward, we’ve got to give him more than two years to get things done — before deciding to go backward. It makes you wonder whether it’s even possible to govern this country any more today. And it’s not. As long as voters remain so fickle.
Which John Boehner and company will soon discover for themselves. That’s the delicious part of these election returns. In the House, Republicans can no longer just be the “Party of No.” Now they’re in charge. Now they have to govern. Now they’re responsible for solving problems. And if they don’t, they too will quickly get the blame.
Come to think of it, Boehner’s been speaker-elect for several days already. Why is unemployment still stuck at 9.5 percent? What programs does he plan to cut in order to pay for the $800 billion in tax cuts he wants to give America’s ruling class? And why are we still stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan? Come on, Boehner, get to work!
After every election, we hear the same trite phrase: “The American people have spoken — and we hear their message.” This year, I’m waiting for one politician to stand up and tell the truth: “The American people have spoken — and they got it all wrong.”
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.