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Americans Stuck In Political Stupor

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The latest bipartisan George Washington University Battleground Poll rightfully received media attention because of its depressing data. There is historic political pessimism and cynicism. But something is more troubling than the data on the dire views of Americans about their elected representatives and government. It is that 72 percent of voters still believe that “voting gives people like me some say about how the government runs things.” Unbelievable! Such confidence in a system that has failed them.

Despite untrustworthy elected officials and a dysfunctional government that takes care of the upper class more than everyone else, Americans retain still believe in their democracy. This logical absurdity – or delusional state – is best explained by avoidance of the pain of cognitive dissonance. Americans resist the reality that they are living in a sham representative democracy where the rule of law is a growing fiction.

It should be noted (but was not in the media coverage) that 75 percent of the likely voters were 45 or older, with a third retired. That makes the results even more unsettling. They should know better than to keep believing they can vote the nation into a better condition. Self-identified Republicans were 41 percent, Democrats 42 percent, and Independents 15 percent.

Consider these reasons for giving up on voting and elections under the grip of the two major parties: Some 53 percent have an unfavorable view of politicians, with 55 percent believing that most elected officials are untrustworthy. A majority of 52 percent disapproves of the performance of the Democrats in Congress and 61 percent disapprove of Republicans there. An incredible 93 percent feels that lawmakers in Washington put partisan politics first compared with citizens. But the biggest shift in voter opinion is that 71 percent think their own Member of Congress puts partisan politics first compared with them, with 63 percent feeling strongly that way.

For the big picture: Seventy-percent are now convinced that the country is off on the wrong track – and 58 percent feel strongly that way. This is the worst score recorded in the history of the Battleground survey. Democrats are universally agreed about this point, but so are 71 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans.

A plurality of 38 percent believes their children will be worse off in the future and only a third said they “think their own children will be better off than they are right now — a drop of 7 points since January.” Pessimism is worst among white Americans: Only 29 percent believe that their children will be better off; 38 percent believe their children will be worse off.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post summed up: “the American people have entered this campaign with a wholly cynical view of the political process.”

One trick of the political status quo establishment to keep many Americans (but still less than about half of all eligible voters) believing in voting is advertising. Consider the current crowded presidential primary season. The mass media constantly work to play up the races among Democratic and Republican contenders. Why not? They make a ton of money from all the money spent on campaign advertising. Televised debates and endless state and national poll data are entertainment that fuel fake competition. It is sheer manipulation of the electorate – to keep them interested in the election and, worse, to keep them believing that it really matters who wins in each party.

In the end, greedy and arrogant power elites will ensure that only a “safe” candidate will be chosen so that the two-party duopoly loses no power and no presidency rocks the political boat or harms corporate America. Having so many contenders in the primary season is a farce. The eventual Democratic ticket will be Clinton and Obama. Period. End of story. It is the lowest risk, smartest political strategy. On the Republican side there is more uncertainty, but the likely ticket will be Giuliani and Thompson.

The true wildcard is whether Michael Bloomberg enters the race as a third party candidate. I am rooting for this. Objective statistical analysis of the American electorate shows that the level of public discontent with Democrats and Republicans is so high that a lavishly funded campaign by Bloomberg can make history. Take independents, turned-off Democrats and Republicans, and the huge numbers of eligible voters that do not usually vote. Bang! You have more than enough votes to make Bloomberg president. By choosing a well known but political maverick that the public trusts as a running mate, he can win. It is exactly the kind of shake-up our political system desperately needs.

Americans must awake from their political stupor and stop letting themselves be victimized and manipulated by the media/political/financial elites running and ruining our nation.

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About Joel S. Hirschhorn

Formerly full professor Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, and senior official Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and National Governors Association. Author of four nonfiction books and hundreds of articles.
  • Nancy

    The fix is already in; as noted in the excellent article, the plutocracy & corporate fatcats are the winners, it’s just a matter of detail as to which puppet – Dem or GOP – best serves their interests. Meanwhile the fatuous MSM, owned & controlled by Murdoch & his equally bloated corporate ilk, & who abrogated their responsibility of actual reporting & watchdogging long ago, wag their tails in compliance & play the game as the corporate interests/plutocracy dictate.

    We the people are such fools. The author has it spot on.

  • moonraven

    Fools are well represented on this microcosm called blogritics.org, Nancy.

  • zingzing

    wait. moonraven, you don’t like blogcritics? you talk to fools all day? wow! i never knew! you’re so much better than we are. lead us! show us the way! oh thank you, goddess, for coming down from your cloud and blessing us with your presence! we bow before you! oh, oh! am i grovelling enough!? look, i’ll eat the dirt! oh wait, before i do that, do you need your feet cleaned? what am i saying!? of course not! your feet could never get dirty up in the cloud! look how you hover! you hover so well… i am in awe of your hovering skillz.

    wait, what exactly do you have to teach us beyond the fact that we are fools? that you are not? i got that. ok. what else you got?

  • Nancy

    ROTFLOL, Zing-!

  • I dunno. . .the more I look at the “politics” section of late, the more I think the articles’ authors are considering a run for office. They read more like speeches than commentary.

  • Baronius

    Joel, I don’t agree with your analysis that “they” are to blame. But you’re right about the level of dissatisfaction out there.

    So let me toss out some ideas. A bigger Congress, with smaller districts. Greater authority given to states and municipalities. And (although I think it’s a bad idea) term limits. Do you think those would be enough to break up the power duopoly? If not, what? Or do you think that there’s no way out?

    I really think Nancy is a bigger problem than political corruption. No offense, Nancy. I just get the feeling that people’s discontent will wax and wane with the level of perceived corruption, but Nancy’s stance will only ever increase the level of discontent.

    I guess I’m thinking, Joel, that talking about cynicism doesn’t help. I’ve been trying not to get caught up in the trivia of the twenty-four-months-long presidential campaign, because like you I find it to be strictly a press phenomenon. It’s the Kantian in me. Act as you would have everyone act. If you ignore the ads, maybe they’ll go away.

  • Zedd

    While I contend that we the people need a jolt, I would not go as far as to say that the system is not working. What is not working is WE THE PEOPLE. Our lackadaisical attitude towards, well, everything is reflected in who we allow to lead us and how they lead us. We have no intention of being fully engaged in anything. We want simple scripts, one-liners, sound bites and a Hollywood ending, as a result, the politicians, media and captains of industry, give us fluff. We don’t want to think about cause and effect. We want to know who’s a “flip flopper” or who is anti family or hates the flag or “cuts and runs”. We totally disregard the fact that none of these “concerns” have any significant meaning other than that they are weaker regurgitations, derivatives of past inconsequential and mindless theatrical concoctions which were designed to sway the public and rob most.

  • Zedd

    Baronius has a point.

    Democracy ONLY works if you believe it works. Disenchantment only breeds inaptitude in a system like ours. The deliberate insanity that was created against Clinton fostered distrust in government. That produced Bush. Need I say more…

  • Baronius

    Zedd, I’d say that the press infatuation with Clinton was the problem, but that’s missing the point. It’s not about which side prevails in a screwed-up system.

    If I could get deep here, I think the last two elections were shabby. Both candidates, both times, allocated their money and visits in a way to maximize electoral votes. It used to be that candidates would waste time going to sure-lose states, pretending that every state was in play. That helped the system.

    Nowadays, candidates want to win by the slimmest possible margin. That’s fiscally sound campaigning, but it’s the opposite of coalition-building. Forget California; Idaho is too small to matter; concentrate on the suburbs of Akron. No wonder so many people feel alienated.

    And the press advertizes it. Everyone knows the swing states. The media cover each blip in Iowa like it’s a story.

  • Zedd


    Are you saying that approaching things in a pointed and rational way affects then nation adversely?

    I would say the direct opposite. America is lulled by the game and the manipulation to the extent that WE don’t know how to be reasonable and therefore cant and don’t make sound political judgements.

    Campaigning in a state that you know and we know has not consequence in order to seem all inclusive is lying and manipulative. The fact that you see it as a good thing support my original assertion (see #7), especially at a time when podcasts and media can reach everyone, not only in obscure locations within our boarders but throughout the globe.

  • Nancy

    That’s why I think the rise of blogging & commentaries by the very grassroots themselves is a good thing. At the moment, the elite haven’t figured out how to control & manipulate the information disseminated by people like us, & can’t do much to herd our minds like they do thru the MSM. Blogging still belongs (for the most part) to people who can (& do) think for themselves. As for me being The Source of dissatisfaction, I’m flattered, & I certainly, sincerely hope so, because we SHOULD all be dissatisfied at the least, if we can’t muster enough gumption for outrage, at the way we’re being conned by the ultra-rich & their corporate extensions, to actually think we have a say in anything like an election.

    At least 49% of Americans think the last 2 elections were bought or stolen. While it may not be true, that so many could be so convinced it is, says very bad things not about the people who think that, but about the state of political affairs in this country that it COULD be true to the point of probability, beyond possibility. You’re right that people’s discontent levels will wax & wane with the amount of perceived (i.e. MSM trumpeting for ratings, depending on whether some celebrity or other isn’t enmeshed in scandal that pre-empts actual news) corruption – but that’s because the average US citizen is not only apathetic & lazy, but poorly educated & frankly stupid & conditioned by said MSM all their lives to be able to handle nothing but sound bites & one-line summaries as well. Everything has had to be dumbed down because the average American can’t (or won’t) read, can’t (or won’t) concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds, & can’t (or won’t) think for themselves. Consider: for the last 3 generations they’ve been parked from birth, for the most part, in front of TVs or computers, & bombarded with attenion-span/intelligence-draining shows, games, & videos that constantly seek to descend to new nadirs of taste as well as intelligence. What is to be expected? If I were neurotic, I might begin to suspect the elites of deliberately fostering a sheeple mentality through just such a long-term program of mental & ethical debilitation. As it is, I just think it was a serendipitous outcome of communications technology which they recognized quickly & appropriated for their own purposes. Kornbluth once wrote an SF story called “The Marching Morons”. Aside from that the elites in reality work only for themselves, I must sadly conclude we are already there.

  • Baronius

    Zedd, I phrased that poorly. I’m saying that a politician shouldn’t gear all his efforts to getting elected by the slimmest possible margin.

    We’ve changed the way we elect presidents a few times in our national history. The most recent changes occurred after Watergate, with the primary process becoming more populist. The reason: the back rooms put Nixon’s name on the ticket five times. Both parties realized that they needed to listen to the people more.

    Our current system amplifies the importance of two of the least populous states in the nation, Iowa and NH. As I noted earlier, the recent general elections have revolved around specific “swing states”, the idea being that other states just don’t swing that way. Everyone knows that a Nebraskan is wasting his time voting for a president.

    What follows is that candidates don’t go to Nebraska.

    Why should that follow? The candidate reinforces the idea that some votes don’t count. He also guarantees that Nebraska will never be on the table. He hurts the turnout in Omaha. He misses an opportunity to create goodwill with the senators from Nebraska.

    In point of fact, about 1/3 of electoral votes are in contention cycle to cycle. States can change. But even if they didn’t, on principle, a candidate should not have a campaign strategy of ignoring sectors of citizens. The electoral college was created to prevent domination by one region. Yet that stretch of land from New Jersey to Michigan is the kingmaker these days.

  • Baronius

    Nancy, we’re not going to see eye to eye. I put out three suggestions: a larger Congress, greater local control, and term limits. I also offered a few ideas about presidential campaign strategies. What do you think would help?

  • wildnfree

    We the people let our government get this way. Why? So we could each get whatever little piece of the pork that was for us. WE WANT to make our neighbors behave according to our standard. WE WANT to be safe no matter the cost. WE WANT everyone except for ourselves to sacrifice for our nations financial liquidity. WE WANT the little pieces of power granted to us by all of our regulation and WE WANT our so called “benefits”. The list of WANTS goes on. The current mess in Washington is just the results of all the things that we wanted, that some jackleg or another promised to get for us (while getting his/her wants too). We built this monster and we can’t kill it, because most of us do not want to.

    I guess P.J. O’Rourke was right when he said,”If every government is a parliament of whores, in a democracy, the whores are us.”

    So far most successful 3rd party candidates have been somewhat to the right of Bloomberg. After the Perot debacle I do not see him as being as much of a threat to the establishment as the Libertarians and the Greens. He would have to shift his positions to cater to what WE WANT. Personally even though I would never vote for him because of what I WANT, I would have tremendous personal respect for him if he sticks to his current stated positions.

  • Les Slater

    #11 nancy

    “…that’s because the average US citizen is not only apathetic & lazy, but poorly educated & frankly stupid & conditioned by said MSM all their lives to be able to handle nothing but sound bites & one-line summaries as well.”

    This is not at all true. Ever consider that they are handed nothing but soundbites because the power elite do not want them to have more? It is NOT the other way around.

    What avenue do average people have to express their views? Polls? Polls are not designed to give people a means of communicating with each other.

    Why would any thinking person want to get their information from blogs? Just read this topic. We’re all too dumb to understand anyway.