There’s a lot of post-election elation and sorrow that’s afoot these days. I’m certainly not happy about the Democrats losing the House and many offices in the states, but elections are like that: you win some, you lose some, right? From my perspective, I agree with Jimmy Carter that having the Republicans in power means they will have to take some responsibility for the actions they take in Congress, and Obama might become a better president since he will have a political foil whom he can blame if things don’t go his way. The problem the Dems had in the last two years is pretty obvious: Blue Dog Dems (essentially moderate Republicans) were holding up or watering down a good deal of Obama’s agenda. Plus, you have the fact that Obama himself is a fairly centrist politician (but has had to act more like a traditional liberal in these tough times), and that means his much of what he should have done (Jobs, Jobs, Jobs) got derailed by making sure the economy didn’t slide completely into the toilet. So, he had to bail out the auto industry to save huge sectors of the economy from a Great Depression, he also had to do all that other undesirable stuff to reassure the economic royalists (almost all of whom seemingly hated the government’s help).
Then there was health care. That complex, boondoggle of a plan that Obama let the interests in Congress craft. Sure, he had some ideas of what the health care overhaul should have, but it wasn’t enough to essentially guide Congress on what to do. And really, there isn’t any good way to do major legislation, so he was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. But the Right –with Tea Party help — found their new religion in small government, low taxes, and a narrow interpretation of the Constitution, so naturally after 8 years of spending under Bush and expanding the government as a National Security State, something had to give — and unfortunately, it was under a Democratic president who won by a huge margin.
But really, after all the talk of “wave” elections, it’s really about the economy. And because more of the voters are not affiliated with any political party (the so-called Independents), their expectations are, to be frank, unrealistic. So that makes these voters really volatile in terms of expectations, and it make it tough to meet those expectations in the framework that the government has to work in. So, what do Independents want? Well, in these economic times, it’s really simple: jobs. And not just any job, mind you. They, like most Americans, want jobs that pay well and will enable them to live the American Dream. That’s a tough thing to do in our global economy. The competition is fierce and labor costs in other parts of the world are much cheaper, so if you’re in the U.S. wondering why you can’t get a job that pays more than crap wages, just look at what companies have to do to remain competitive. They need to price their products competitively, and can only do so with either government subsidies, or reducing their overhead costs – which 9 times out of 10 is labor. And hey, the American Dream is expensive and in order to achieve it, you have to either make your riches on your own, or try and achieve a modicum of success by working for someone else. Now, most of us won’t be able to make huge gobs of money by starting up a company that’s going to be “the next big thing.” Nope. Most of us will work for someone else and hope that the kind of money we can make whatever company we sell our labor to will help us achieve the American Dream – a dream which varies, so I’m leaving the definition open. So, when most companies are facing increased pressure to drive the price of their products and services down, while driving working productivity up, it means that said companies are going to run their shops lean and mean. There’s no room for fat (i.e., extra workers to ease the workload) in this new normal, so unless an industry pops up that has jobs that are not exportable, and can pay wages that keep pace with the cost of living in the U.S., we’re going to see a general trend of lower to stagnant wages.
I sure hope I’m wrong on this because it means a lot of what we take as truisms in the country (i.e., “Work hard and you’ll eventually make it”) will prove to be false. In some sectors of our society, it was never really a truism to begin with, but the more we start to slip in terms of wages, the more politicians are going to pay for it at the ballot box. The see-saw effect of the anxious voters getting mad at one party or another (and those like the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs who profit of such fury) means we may be in for a lot of elected seats changing.
Obama is the president, and as such his job is to sell his ideas passionately and forcefully, but that’s something he hasn’t been doing very well since he took office. So, going forward, there needs to be a concerted effort on the Democratic leadership, those who are sympathetic to Democratic causes, and, yes, ordinary voters to distill what a center-left agenda needs to be. After listening to a recent edition of This American Life, however, I’m not hopeful that people on the leftish side of the political spectrum can do just that.