Republicans, and far too many Democrats, claim that the midterm elections were a referendum on the -liberal- gawdless socialist policies of the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress. They claim that Americans want tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy, to create jobs, that Americans don't want socialized medicine, in particular -Obamacare- -health care reform- Mitt Romney's health insurance reform, that Americans want to reduce growth-stifiling regulation on Wall Street, again to create those elusive jobs, that Americans want cuts to -the social safety net- entitlement spending to rein in the out-of-control deficit.
I've heard similar, if less extreme, claims right here on Daily Kos, that Americans aren't ready for liberal policies, that the best Democrats and others on the American Left can expect are incremental changes in the hope that someday we can achieve a more liberal society.
And as it turns out, that's all bollocks.
RJ Eskow explains.
The American public would rather raise taxes on the wealthy than cut Social Security. They want to protect Medicare from future cuts and ensure that the college loan program remains intact. They think Congress should focus on creating jobs and fixing the economy, and deal with deficit spending later. They'd rather see politicians support a "made in America" program than vote for more free trade. They want to see significant investment in infrastructure and want to end tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.Mr Eskow supports his argument by citing post-election polling from the Campaign for America's Future.
And that's not all. By enormous majorities, the public want to do more to reign in Wall Street, spend more to end poverty, and ensure that everyone has access to health care. When it comes to the issues, this country is overwhelmingly progressive, overwhelmingly pro-government, and overwhelmingly in favor of doing the things we need to do to build a better society.
But wait, as the late night TV ads say. That's not all. The public's preferred prescription for the nation -- higher taxes for the wealthy, more infrastructure spending, preserved or expanded social programs, reigning in the bankers who wrecked the economy -- is exactly what most economists think is needed to improve our financial picture.
Among the highlights?
• Fifty-eight percent of respondents who voted said they were trying to send a message about how dissatisfied they are with things in Washington. But they were not necessarily embracing the Republican party and its policies: Both political parties received equally poor favorability ratings, as did the Tea Party movement. Twenty-six percent of voters said they were trying to send a message to "both parties" with their vote, while only 20 percent cited President Obama and 15 percent said Democrats in Congress.I've read a number of pundits in the media, as well as a -surprising- number of commenters here on Daily Kos, who like to point out that fewer Americans identify themselves as "liberals" than either "moderates" or "conservatives," with the presumption that how Americans label themselves ideologically is indicative of what they support in terms of policy. The spectacle of one very confused protestor yelling, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" highlights this dissonance between affiliation and expectation in the American body politic.
• Fifty-eight percent of voters said they were much or somewhat more likely to vote for a candidate that promised "to change Washington for the middle class. That means eliminating the special deals and tax breaks won by corporate lobbyists for Wall Street, paid for by American taxpayers and workers' outsourced jobs. Republicans have pledged to protect those breaks. We should cut taxes for the middle class and small business to create jobs."
• Compared to a candidate who attacked Democrats for the economic stimulus and health care reform, 57 percent of voters said they were much or somewhat more likely to support a candidate with a "made-in-America" campaign message that points out that Republicans have "pledged to support free trade deals and protect tax breaks for companies that send American jobs to India and China."
• Sixty-nine percent said that "politicians should keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare" as they attempt to address the national deficit.
• A majority opposed the Republican plan to cut $100 billion from domestic spending programs while extending the Bush tax cuts to those earning more than $250,000, while 51 percent said they agreed that those top-end tax cuts should expire and with proposals offered by Democrats to reduce the deficit over time.
• Significant majorities in the poll supported new investments in infrastructure through a national infrastructure bank, a five-year strategy for reviving manufacturing in America.
So if Americans support liberal policies, why did they resoundingly reject Democrats at the polls this month? Much of the commentary both before and after the election pointed to a, "Throw the bums out!" vibe in the electorate, fueled by a desperately slow recovery and the rapidly growing disparity between the rich and the rest of us.
But consider what the Democrats offered over the past two years. Instead of tackling health care reform by building on a popular program like Medicare, one which even conservative Republicans will go to the mat to defend, they implemented a private health insurance mandate, one enforced by that most popular of federal agencies, the IRS. Instead of protecting homeowners from absurd foreclosure practices - Matt Taibbi's description of a court filing in which a bank claimed to be the holder of a home loan while simultaneously being unable to produce any documentation to back up the claim comes to mind - Democrats continue to defend Wall Street bankers and speculators with their blind faith in a so-called 'free market' reduced to freewheeling gambling conducted at the speed of microprocessors.
Democrats can own the winning arguments. Americans want liberal policies. The problem is one of illusion. As Mr Eskow notes, "A political scientist once said that the media can't influence what you think, but it can influence what you think about." Conservatives are like magicians using misdirection to perform their tricks, and too many Democrats cast themselves in the role of the incredulous audience member called on stage. As the leader of his party and possessor of the loudest microphone in the world, the President should instead be The Masked Magician. Americans want the real deal, not illusions.