After decades of skewing increasingly to the right, Americans now find themselves listing to the left…?
George Bush: Worst. President. Ever? After 9/11, George Bush mired the United States in two of the longest wars in the country’s history. Initially, the Bush administration promised that the calamitous Iraq war would be brief and cost “only” $60 billion or so. This figure was off by, oh, $2 – $6 trillion or so. And let’s not forget the worst economic meltdown in 80 years in 2008, which left the country (and President Obama) with 10%-plus unemployment and required a Federal bailout of “too-big-to-fail” banks and corporations. No, two-term President Bush was not a popular man upon leaving the presidency–and the country–in such a mess. Ironically, his failures were nearly immediately blamed on President Obama by an angry, regressive wing of the republican party that called itself the Tea party.
In 2009, the Tea Party became the President’s nemesis. By now, it’s a matter of history: a groundswell that appeared to be “grassroots” organizing against high taxes and big government, was actually “astroturf”-funded by the likes of the Koch brothers. The Tea Party was successful; they moved the republican party to the far right, and held their leaders’ feet to the regressive fire so that any governance became anathema to the GOP. In fact, any initiatives from the president such jobs bills, infrastructure bills, veterans bills–anything that helped people (other than the wealthy) were DOA under the Tea Party-controlled Congress, starting in 2010.
That the GOP majority in Congress would thwart the president’s agenda every step of the way was codified in a press conference in which Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bragged that the GOP’s “top political priority” was to ensure that the president not be elected to a second term. Not healthcare, not jobs, not veterans affairs, not the country’s crumbling infrastructure, but preventing the president from being re-elected. Of course, that’s not what they were paid to do then, nor is it their sanctioned job to this day, but they certainly have acted like it is. The litany of headlines of GOP “actions” during Obama’s presidency looks like a laundry list of ineptitude and misguided actions:
- GOP shuts down government for 17 days which did nothing but cost money
- GOP kills veterans healthcare and education bill
- GOP kills President’s $478 billion infrastructure and jobs bill
- GOP passes bill that repeal estate tax; would add $269 billion to deficit
- GOP votes to repeal Obamacare 62 times
We could go on, but why bother? The Google has more answers if you’re of a mind. The truth of the matter is the republicans were in charge of the Senate for the past two years, and in charge of the House for the past six years. What they did with this legislative advantage was…not much. Nearly every time the president offered a compromise, the response was the same, resoundingly so: “NO, Mr. President.”
Domestic Policy: Go Left Young Man–and Woman. The Tea Party-fronted GOP has made it clear that it will not let the Supreme Court stop it from diminishing a woman’s Constitutional right to choose by instituting state laws that make getting an abortion more difficult. They’ve also instituted gun laws at the state that have frightened many, including “stand your ground” and concealed carry laws in places such as bars, college campuses, and other public areas. Congressional republicans have also attempted to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that has provided reproductive and health services to an estimated one out of every five women in the United States. Global warming has been repeatedly called a hoax by the GOP, even though those liberal hippy-types at the Department of Defense are preparing for the impacts of climate change. These are but a few of the areas where the GOP has veered to the far right; but there are other areas that have pushed people to embrace a more progressive political view, including the killing of people of color. These issues resonate with young people. Environmentalism is a critical issue for young people, and it’s perceived to be a “liberal” cause, because the ideological right tends to favor corporatist energy policies (oil, fracking, nuclear) with minimal regulation, compared to more liberal views that engender green energy (solar, wind, etc.). Interestingly, Gallup indicates that 60% of Americans want more of a focus on renewable energy compared to 30% who want to continue oil and gas extraction.
Black Lives Matter. For example many high-profile attacks on black people resulting in deaths or injury by the police in this country have led to a great deal of outrage including black lives matter movement. The deaths of several African Americans, including the shootings of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Missouri; the arrest and subsequent (apparent) suicide of Sandra Bland in Texas; the choking death of Eric Garner in New York; the the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore who died in police custody nonetheless; and the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina who was shot in the back by police officer all spurred outrage at the speed of social media including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. This fueled outrage against a system of justice that many feel doesn’t mete out justice for all people equally, and actually targets black people significantly more than white people for the same offenses.
Gay Rights. In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the right of gay people to get married. As of this writing, it’s legal to get gay-married in _____ states. This is something that LGBTQ advocates have been fighting for for decades, and has been one of the “NO!” planks of the GOP platform for a long time. Millennials have less of a problem with gay rights than older people, and overall, polls indicate that_______________.
Bernin’ Down the House. Bernie Sanders channeled the discontent of many progressives who feel that the system is rigged for the wealthiest and those who “already got mine.” Why is that? Well, he appeals to traditional values of progressives like Franklin D. Roosevelt…etc. [insert piece on this]
An Insurmountable Student Loan Debt Mountain. While the GOP made the budget deficit and national debt key planks in their party’s platform, student loan debt has ballooned out of control, and stands at around $1.2 trillion–more than all the country’s credit card debt combined. This is an area where the youth vote, an increasingly powerful and [Harvard study politically engaged] millennial demographic is very much concerned. But while presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has made free education one of his to priorities, no one in the GOP is suggesting anything remotely similar–because, in their collective view, “we don’t have the money.”
The GOP appears to be dissolving before our eyes. As it turns out, having as your main priority opposition to anything the president is for doesn’t really work out too well when people expect you to run the country, as taxpayer-funded civil servants are supposed to do. Do you remember the last time the GOP was celebrated for passing a law or advocating a policy that was wildly popular, or do you remember constant infighting? Do you remember the last time GOP candidates for president were civil toward one another, rather than children hurling epithets at one another? Turns out that the American people are don’t either. A Pew Research Center poll shows just how negatively people view the Republican party these days–it’s worse and getting worser, as George Bush might say!
Even President Obama’s favorability ratings are up–53%, according to a recent Gallup poll. At this point in his presidency (early May 2008), George Dubya Bush’s favorability ratings were hovering around 28% according to Gallup. Could it be that the deficit shrinking by $1 trillion under the president has something to do with it? Or the fact that unemployment has been nearly cut in half since the first few months of Obama taking office (10.7% in June 2009, to 5.5% in May 2016)?
Regardless, today, 43% of Americans identify themselves as Independents. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee primarily because he’s a political outsider (he’s never held political office). Bernie Sanders–a self-described democratic socialist no one took seriously for several months of the presidential race–is still winning states as of this writing. Still, for many, the “current system” isn’t something that is working for them. That could because although the unemployment rate has dropped, many people are still struggling economically, because the economy seems to have shifted structurally.
And, as it turns out, more and more money has been funneled into fewer and fewer hands since the 1970s. In fact, while production has gone up, hourly compensation has remained largely stagnant.
A Pew poll indicated that the majority of people think that the tax system needs to be overhauled because it’s unfair. Could it be that people are starting to weary of contrary data? Like, say, the wealthiest family in the United States, the Waltons, whose net worth is estimated at $149 billion, but who have employees that must turn to welfare benefits because they are underpaid? Could it be that people are tired of having to actually support WalMart’s employees with $6.2 billion in food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized in, according to one report? Time will tell.
He’s Dead, Jim. The Tea Party ain’t what it used to be, and its pretty clear that it’s extremist views are only shared by a minority of voters. And many of its champions have left congress to go on to what one can only assume are dry, parched pastures. The Tea Party’s ascent seems to have stalled. Support for the movement rose to 32% in in late 2010, just after mid-term elections. Tea Party supporters helped the Republican Party gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since then, however, according to the conservative National Review:
Quite a few of the political figures most associated with the movement are no longer in public office. Representative Michele Bachmann retired after the 2014 cycle. Former Senator Jim DeMint resigned from the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation. Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli lost his bid for governor in 2013 and now runs the Senate Conservatives Fund. The governor he sought to replace, Bob McDonnell, is currently appealing his conviction on federal corruption charges. Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown was once hailed for winning “the Tea Party’s first electoral victory.” He lost his reelection bid to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012, and a subsequent race for the Senate in New Hampshire last cycle.
And of course the Sarah Palin was the movement’s biggest champion and arguably most successful–she was selected to be John McCain’s VP even though her leadership experience included a shorted governship and a stint as mayor of Wasilla. She supports Trump today, and is known less as a leader of the Tea Party and more as someone who has an abusive relationship with words. According to a late 2015 Gallup poll, only 17% of Americans considered themselves members of the Tea Party–that’s about a 50% reduction from 2010.
Vote for Neither Party? But apparently, neither party is viewed as having the chops to turn things around–Donald Trump is the worst liked candidate in decades, but Hillary Clinton isn’t far behind. According to the statistics blog 538,
Clinton and Trump are both more strongly disliked than any nominee at this point in the past 10 presidential cycles…Clinton’s average “strongly unfavorable” rating in probability sample polls from late March to late April, 37 percent, is about 5 percentage points higher than the previous high between 19803 and 2012. Trump, though, is on another planet. Trump’s average “strongly unfavorable” rating, 53 percent, is 20 percentage points higher than every candidate’s rating besides Clinton’s. Trump is less disliked than [ex-KKK Grand Wizard] David Duke was when Duke ran for the presidency in 1992, but Duke never came close to winning the nomination. In fact, I’ve seen never anything like Trump’s numbers heading into a general election for someone who is supposed to be competitive.
What this means going forward? Many guesses. One thing is certain: the times they are a changin’…