"Of course people are frustrated," President Obama told the Democratic National Committee over the weekend, "they have every right to be." But I don't know if he really understands the level of "frustration" out there. Democrats who believe that they can just give voters a laundry list of modest "accomplishments" going into 2010 are deluding themselves. The Democrats unwisely allowed the Republicans to conflate the bank bailout with the stimulus package, and characterize both as reckless "big government" spending. And the perception lingering out there is that the Democrats have done a lot for the big banks and the health insurance companies, but precious little to improve the lives of working people.
The whole point of Obama's two years on the road campaigning was to convince voters that he was a different kind of politician. "Not This Time!" he said. Pundits claim his popularity is because he's "post-partisan" or "post-racial" (whatever that means). But Obama was popular because people believed he was different. And nothing corrodes this president's standing more than the impression that after sending him to Washington he has become Tweedle-Dee to the Republicans' Tweedle-Dum.
Real estate analysts estimate that by June 2010 about 10 percent of all Americans with mortgages (5.1 million people) will be throwing away their hard-earned money each month to pay for a house that is worth only 75 percent or less of the mortgage balance. These poor saps have the dubious honor of subsidizing the incomes of financial sector bottom feeders. They've become indentured servants to a crooked industry that also bilked taxpayers for $810 billion in bailouts. In response, Democrats should have passed a new Home Ownership Loan Corporation (HOLC) designed to help the millions of people who are burdened with "under water" mortgages. There should have been a government sponsored reset of "troubled" mortgages that were signed during the years of wanton predatory lending and white-collar thievery. Instead, mortgage lenders got their "troubled assets" bailed out while mortgage purchasers got screwed again. People are understandably angry that their tax dollars went into the pockets of the perps of the crime instead of helping the victims.
When the financial services industry exposed itself to be worthy only of our contempt the response from Congress was to reward failure. Even with Democrats in power Wall Street still calls the shots. The Democrats can't even repeal the taxpayer subsidies that are forked over to the corrupt student loan sector. They've also failed in holding anyone accountable for the economic carnage of the Bush years. The Holder Justice Department is a joke, leaving us to look to New York's Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, to bring any heat on former bank executives. Meanwhile, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs walks away with a $9 million "bonus" for 2009 and the press reports it like he has done something noble by not grabbing more. This kind of thing makes people want to join the Tea Party.
It's too late now, but the Democrats should have passed a new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) where young people could be put to work right away doing a variety of public service jobs to help clean up local communities and ease unemployment. Politically, the Democrats could have at least taken credit when they extended unemployment benefits, which is a popular program the GOP doesn't like. The Democrats received very little political "bang" for their stimulus "buck." State and local governments, facing their own budget shortfalls, cut back about $300 billion, thereby nullifying roughly half of Obama's stimulus. And after wasting a year teasing voters with "robust public options" and "Medicare buy-ins" it was cruel to toss it all away just because some fat-cat insurance companies didn't like it.
In the zero-sum game of our governing duopoly the Democrats' failure equals the Republicans' success, and voters have no choice but to vent their anger at whoever's in power.
Unless the Congress moves some progressive legislation quickly there's going to be trouble this fall because any political party that is stupid enough to allow a couple of shmucks like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, or the outcome of a special election in New England, to unravel its governing coalition doesn't deserve to be in power.
Americans fully understood that they got creamed during the final Bush years. They did the right thing and voted in the opposing party believing it might rectify things. The paltry result of their electoral efforts has led to far more than mere voter "frustration." They're furious and ready to wreak their revenge.
Unfortunately, the nation appears to be moving in California's direction. In California, an unpopular Republican/Big Business minority holds de facto control over the state's finances. Using the budget deficit as their perennial excuse, California's "leaders" have heartlessly shredded the social safety net. In Washington, a similarly unpopular Republican/Big Business minority holds de facto control of the Congress. After the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans will be emboldened and, like California, using the budget deficit as their perennial excuse, they will push for shredding the federal safety net (what they call "entitlements," but what most people call Social Security and Medicare). And they'll accomplish this assault in a political-media climate where it's just "common sense." The discourse is already set up for this scenario with all the talk of deficits and "bipartisan commissions" as if our fiscal problems stem from our "generous" safety net and not the wars and tax cuts for the rich. This continuous political devolution, if not corrected, only means that the living conditions of average Americans are going to continue their long downward slide.
Follow Joseph A. Palermo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JosephPalermo1