The cliché holds that elections have consequences, and if the current lollapalooza of chaos and dysfunction in the government and political spheres is any indication the cliché’s validity remains on firm footing. I’d like to blame it all exclusively on the foaming at the mouth conservatives running amok in the halls of Congress. However, it’s important to remember that the people who voted for these divots deserve the blame too.
It’s a given perhaps in modern democracies in the media age that voters often pay insufficient attention, are distracted or are ill-informed. This may especially be so in the United States, what with the downpour of paid advertising and propagandizing blessed and protected by our Supreme Court over several decades now. Rather than basing election choices on direct analysis of information, voters respond to what they see and hear in paid ads.
Still, these short-term, superficial judgments often made by voters, or more accurately, some voters, undertaken as they are with a minimal understanding of the underlying beliefs and actions of the principal political players and the political parties, or with lacking awareness of a more extensive stretch of recent history than the month prior to the actual election, indeed can have major consequences.
Using the ballot principally as a vehicle for registering general dissatisfaction, casting the often remarked “protest vote,” as so many voters reportedly did in the 2010 election cycle, can end up being dramatically self-destructive.
In the states, voters already are paying a stiff price. Having elected a slate of “Tea Party” extremists to the legislature and governor’s office in Wisconsin the state is now spending a fortune attempting to undo what voters did in 2010 before any more damage can be exacted. The cost to the Wisconsin economy of the draconian policies implemented already by radical ideologues: drastic spending cuts and job reductions in order to provide even more tax benefits to corporations, will not be minor. At a time when wages are long stagnant, consumer demand is on life-support and there is next to no upward pressure being applied to wages anywhere, attacking unions is about as economically backward and purely destructive an endeavor as state government possibly could undertake.
I’m not aware of precise calculations of financial repercussions from the government shutdown in the state of Minnesota due to intransigent and extremist Republican elements of the legislature there, but undoubtedly the mess will be costly. In states such as Florida and Michigan recently elected far-right governors and legislatures have undertaken ideologically driven measures residents now are finding alarming, the plunge in approval ratings for these politicians surely reflecting that some of those who recently casts their votes to elect them now are plagued with regret.
Such outcomes are not unforeseeable. A more attentive and better informed electorate can make all the difference in the world. In 2010, Republican candidates around the country, in the long run-ups to primary elections and on into the general elections, repeatedly made comparisons equating America’s democratically elected government with a tyrannical power. This is common jargon now for right-wing politicians, and from Michelle Bachmann to your garden variety state legislature this level of disdain for the American government is common parlance. Should anyone be surprised those recently elected would join their like-minded colleagues already there and enthusiastically bring the American government to a grinding, chaotic halt for six or seven months with obstructions and ultimatums?
These candidates ran as virulently corporatists, acutely hostile to the social safety net, blatantly dismissive of worker rights and stagnant wages, made misinformed or outlandish claims about the American Constitution, and butchered American history on a consistent basis. They shouted from a bullhorn explicit hatred of Twentieth Century reforms, from the Progressive Era’s introduction of a federal income tax, to anti-monopoly acts, to the workplace regulations that instituted prohibitions against child labor among others. They excoriated the New Deal, and specifically called for repeal of several standing amendments to the American Constitution, targeting the 14th through the 17th specifically.
Why should anyone be surprised that radicals who mostly didn’t conceal their radicalism (In some cases, such as Scott Walker’s in Wisconsin, voters do feel they were explicitly misled) then behave radically, and in the interest of their own rarefied ideological fancies rather than with any pragmatic or practical concern for the needs of voters? Ideologues don’t look out and see actual people, or actual economic data or cause and effect: they see abstractions and unalterable, intransigent convictions residing entirely apart from material and perceptible reality. Are some of those citizens now complaining the loudest that “those idiots in Washington just can’t get things done,” aware they are precisely responsible for handing those irresponsible individuals the power they currently hold?
It has often been noted here and elsewhere how Americans voting against their own economic interests is such an astonishing and reliable aspect of the American political process. Unfortunately, the result of the 2010 elections implanting a numerically significant contingent of radical ideologues and determined obstructionists into the United States Congress is about to cause not only those misguided individuals who voted for them, but all the rest of us, considerable economic pain.
Pundits in their immaculate laziness often like to note the American people are “frustrated and disgusted” by the dysfunction in Washington: well, blame yourself if you pulled the trigger for one of the “Tea Party” wack-a-loons in whose hands all of our lives now unfortunately rest. The punditocracy also tends to speak in hushed, worshipful tones of independent voters, those much sought after by campaigns as the expected tipping factor in many national elections. They are also known as “low information voters,” because they fit the profile of those who complain a lot about conditions in the moment, but do not pay any attention to the specifics on a daily basis over the long term. Will they pay any more attention now? Your guess is as good as mine.
Nationally, the only remaining question is the degree and exact nature of the pain that may be coming. Either we default, causing a cascade of higher interest rates, dried up capital, further economic retrenchment and even more job loss, or depending on the unpredictable economic reverberations around the world, a potentially economic calamity that dwarfs all previous recessions and depressions; or, a conservative bill, meaning one with large, economy-stifling cuts to spending passes congress, with dramatic if less catastrophic, we hope, consequences for economic growth and jobs. The best outcome would be a clean bill with nothing attached. However, should such a bill be passed it will guarantee returning to this same deadlock and surreal theater as soon as a couple of months from now, and re-litigating the entire hullaballoo in perpetuity.
One of the richer, if dooming ironies of the last year or so is that ultra-right or “Tea Party” Republicans as they have now rebranded themselves, profoundly misinformed, unaware, or just ideologically blinkered crowed shrilly about the insidiousness of taxes at a time when taxes have been declining for thirty years, when tax rates are historically low as are revenues from taxes flowing in. Well, here’s some news “Tea Partiers”: if the credit-rating downgrade America is currently looking at causes interest rates to rise by a mere tenth of a percentage point, that will be an additional 500 million dollar cost to the America taxpayer. Multiply that by the rippling effect across the country of unavailable credit, dead-in-the-water consumer demand followed by the closing of businesses, and even higher and more calamitous unemployment, and the impact on your wallet of the obstructionists you advocated for and elected to Congress will make current taxes look like child’s play.