Demonizing Obama and Romanticizing Rage

I don’t claim to be an expert in politics, but I do have a rule of thumb: don’t trust political advice from people who want to tear you down.

So yesterday, Daniel Henninger of the WSJ’s editorial page darkly warns that Democrats are “at the edge of the cliff” because new polling shows that the public is bitterly horrified by everything the Dems stand for.

It’s not just bad news for the Dems, he writes with grim authority. “It’s Armageddon.”

Golly, that does sound bad. As evidence, Henniger relies on a new Pew Research Center survey which shows that Americans are in an incredibly sour mood and that “trust in government” has sunk to an all-time low of 22 percent.

And Henninger knows exactly the source of that bilious anger: Obama’s wild-and-crazy spending and his power-mad expansion of Big Goverment.

Something unique happened in the first Obama year, about the last thing the Democratic Party needed: The veil was ripped from the true cost of government. This is the ghastly nightmare Democrats have always needed to keep locked in a crypt.

There’s just one problem. The Pew report says almost nothing about spending policies or a Democratic Armageddon. What it does describe is something few will find surprising:

“….an almost a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government — a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

Well, sure. Why shouldn’t voters be in a lousy mood? The economy IS dismal, though it’s a lot better than it was. Unemployment is still near 10 percent unemployment, foreclosures are still climbing and long-term joblessness rates are off the charts. Meanwhile, the Wall Street players who caused so much of the crisis are already rolling in money again.

It’s inevitable and understandable that people who are still hurting are likely to take their anger out on the party of power. Who else are you going to kick?

But it’s an absurd stretch to say voters are rebelling en masse against Democratic policies or against Obama. Indeed, what the Pew report shows is a mass revulsion against Congress, which is not the same thing as Democrats. Inded, it’s a good bet that much of that revulsion is tied to the obstructionism that Republicans turned into a high art.

As for “partisan-based backlash,” I have to admit I’m pretty bitter myself too. I’m steamed that Republicans filibustered every Democratic bill they could, and that Dems wasted a full year in doomed attempts to negotiate with them on health care reform. My attitudes toward elected officials sank further when Republicans attacked the health care bill with shameless lies about “death panels,” “socialized medicine” and subsidized health insurance for illegal immigrants. And when Republicans decided to protect Wall Street by claiming that Obama’s financial reform would lead to more Wall Street bailouts, I admit my attitude toward elected officials probably fell an all-time low.

As it happens, Pew reports that favorable opinions toward Obama are much higher than for Congress (40 percent vs. 25 percent).

If voters are horrified by cold Democrats’ Big Government policies, you would expect them to be more angry at a 100-percent Democratic presidency than a 50-plus percent Democratic Congress. If the public nightmare was really as Henninger sees it, you might expect votes to cherish Congress with all its Republican obstructionism.

But Pew reports that “record discontent with Congress — and dim views of elected officials generally — have poisoned the well for trust in the federal government.” Pew says the discontent as even spread to Democrats, whose opinion of the Democratic congress has fallen to a just 40 percent — a new low for members of the majority party.

But again, anger at Congress is not the same as anger at Obama or Democrats. When Democrats are upset with a Democratic Congress, many if not most are upset because Congress isn’t passing enough Democratic legislation.

It’s true that Pew finds a steep rise in anti-government anger among the Tea Party types or what Pew calls “disaffecteds” — a particular subgroup of independents described as “chronically distrustful of government, financially pressed and tend to lean Republican.

But a lot of that traces back to three things: an economic crisis, unpopular corporate bailouts and fear of change.

The economic crisis is ebbing, slowly but surely. The bailouts are actually being repaid, much more than most experts ever predicted. And the change? The reality of the new laws is all but certain to be a lot less frightening than the scare stories told during the political debate.

What really ought to scare the WSJ editorial page is that voters will find out that the health care reform and FinReg aren’t remotely as scary as Republicans made them out to be and that they might actually like them.

About Edmund L. Andrews 37 Articles

Edmund L. Andrews spent two decades as a business and economics correspondent for The New York Times. During that time, he covered many of the nation ’s most transforming events, from the Internet and biotech revolutions to the emergence of capitalism in central Europe and Russia and the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan and Ben S. Bernanke. In 2009 he published BUSTED: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown (WW Norton), his own harrowingly personal account of the epic financial crisis. He has frequently appeared on major television and radio news programs, from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Today to 20/20, All Things Considered, Lou Dobbs on CNN, the Colbert Show, BBC Worldwide, MSNBC and CNBC.

Ed began his affiliation with The Times in 1988 when he covered patents, telecommunications, and technology. In 1992, he joined the Washington bureau of The Times as a domestic correspondent and reported extensively on the business and politics surrounding the convergence of cable television, the Internet and broadband digital networks. In 1996, Ed became The Times’ European economics correspondent and its Frankfurt bureau chief. He returned to Washington in 2002 and became the bureau’s lead economics correspondent and The Times’ main eyes and ears on the Federal Reserve.

Prior to joining The Times, Ed worked as a magazine writer specializing in business and economics. Before that, he was an assignment editor for Cable News Network in Washington and an education and city government reporter at The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, Ark.

Ed graduated magna cum laude from Colgate University in 1978 with high honors in international relations. In 1981, he received a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He is married to Patricia Barreiro and has four children – Ryan, Matthew, Daniel and Emily.

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