Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fickle In The Middle

Scene from "Simpson's" episode 3F20 Much Apu About Nothing:

The mail arrives.

Homer: Woo-hoo! A perfect day. Zero bears and one big fat hairy paycheck. [opens it up]
Hey! How come my pay is so low?...Bear patrol tax! This is an outrage! It's the biggest tax increase in history!

Lisa: Actually, Dad, it's the smallest tax increase in history.

Homer: Let the bears pay the bear tax. I pay the Homer tax.

Lisa: That's homeowner tax.

Homer: Well, anyway, I'm still outraged.

Later in front of the mayor's office, the mob is back, yelling "Down with taxes! Down with taxes!"

Quimby: Are those morons getting dumber or just louder?

Assistant: [checks his clipboard] Dumber, sir.

Quimby: They want the bear patrol but they won't pay taxes for it.

There's no denying that less than a year into his administration the bloom is already off the Obama rose for many Americans. His approval ratings have steadily declined since last spring and many of his most prominent policies--including those that he campaigned heavily on--no longer enjoy support from the majority of voters.

Like most conservatives I welcome these developments and hope that they are a sign that the American people are still mostly center-right in their political outlook and have been turned off by President Obama's leftward veer. But I also wonder if there's a more disturbing angle to the rather sudden turnabout in American public opinion. Have the American people--or at least the moderate middle portion of the population--become like the residents of Springfield who want the bear patrol, but don't want to pay for it?

Victor Davis Hanson explained how these incompatible views have helped wreck havoc in California in a piece in the November 23rd edition of National Review (sub req):

What went wrong is not just gerrymandered legislative districts, activist judges, ballot propositions, and constitutional requirements for two-thirds majorities. Those are manifestations of a deeper malady, the residue of past efforts, both conservative and liberal, to shake up the state. Conservative Californians--sick of crime and high taxes--passed ballot propositions to restrict the options of liberal public officials, who during budget crises often had cut essential services to shock voters into approving questionable pet entitlements. Liberal environmentalists used the same referendum process to institutionalize much of their no-growth agenda. Neither side worried about the resulting costs--or the underlying reasons for which the state had so much criminal activity to begin with, or for which those who had homes in nice places did not want others to have the same opportunity.

In short, the problem is us--the mercurial public of California. A certain therapeutic mindset of wanting things without regard for what they'll cost has set in. While this is a common trend in contemporary America, it has become gospel here in California.

During the campaign last year, independent voters liked hearing Obama promise them that he would reduce health care costs, get people around the world to like us once again, and keep the seas from rising because of global warming. Now that they realize that bringing these promises to fruition means restricting their medical choices, prostrating ourselves before the world (figuratively and literally), and stunting our prospects for economic growth they're not so sanguine about the reality of President Obama.

The pace of these moderate mood swings has likely been exacerbated by the non-stop nature of the political news cycle and the desire for immediate gratification spawned by our consumer culture. There's no longer time for a pause, a chance to let things play out and develop. We need it and we need it now. President Obama has been criticized for remaining in campaign mode even after taking office, but maybe that's a recognition on his part on the need to constantly demonstrate to these independents that you're meeting their ever changing needs.

For the moment, the fickle nature of moderate voters is working in favor of conservatives. But there lies a danger in this unwillingness of the middle to commit to a course whether that course heads left or right. In order to address the long term problems facing the country, at some point there's going to have to be a period of relative political stability. With more and more Americans identifying themselves as part of the middle, their willingness to hold the center will determine whether we see such stability anytime in the near future.

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