One of the extraordinary things about this election is how people have been persuaded to vote against their own interests.
The New Jacobins have claimed the scalps of conservative members of Congress whose major crime was providing jobs and financial resources to their hard-pressed constituents.
They also have created mass hysteria over the alleged insolvency of Social Security (expected to remain solvent until 2037) and Medicare (2029). Who knows what will happen tomorrow, let alone decades from now.
And they have taken special aim at the health care reform bill, which provides financial help needed by everyone except the independently wealthy. The bill gives Americans the very health care benefits enjoyed by members of Congress: Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, nor set limits on health care expenditures. And children remain on their parents' policies until the age of 26.
Another target: financial regulatory reform, which bans credit card companies from predatory practices long directed at young people, and creates a consumer protection agency to protect us from Wall Street excesses that have led to our terrible recesssion.
It is indeed baffling how the New Jacobins have been able to defeat conservative Republicans and Democrats who have provided financial aid to their constituents in these economically perilous times. Their first victim was Sen. Robert Bennett, Republican of Utah and grandson of a president of the Mormon church. One of the most conservative members of the Senate, Bennett was assailed for his role as a member of the Appropriations committee. His web site boasts, "Bennett Secures $7.5 milliion for ATK in Defense Bill," ATK being a Utah company that manufactures Minute Man missiles. Also, "Bennett Praises House Passage of NASA Authorization, saying it will save thousands of Utah jobs."
Another scalp: Rep. Alan Mollohan, conservative Democrat of West Virginia, who also was blasted for his role as an appropriator. His web site boasts, "New Funding for WVU's Parkersburg Downtown Campus," and "Federal Funding for Morgantown's Metropolitan Theater." Also ousted was Rep. Mike Castle, conservative Republican of Delaware. His crimes also are plainly listed on his web site: "$14.5 million to repair storm damage at Delaware beaches," and "$5.3 million for new training facility at Dover Air Force Base."
All this spending was contained in earmarks, modern patronage that is highly susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse. But no one can doubt that much of this was sorely needed by impoverished individuals and communities.
The New Jacobins say they seek to stem a spending spree that can't be sustained, and has fed our deepening national debt. They are aligned with Edmund Burke's famous dictum that once elected to parliament he was a national legislator, not a local one. Not coincidentally, Burke was defeated in the next election.
Tip O'Neill famously observed that "All politics is local." How then were we persuaded to punish those who provided constituent jobs when unemployment persists at 9.5 percent? An unceasing barrage of television commercials underwritten by wealthy conservatives including the Koch brothers had something to do with it. So did the unceasing flow of misinformation peddled by TV pundits. How were we persuaded that Social Security and Medicare were on the brink of insolvency? Same villains.
The wonder is how the New Jacobins have persuaded so many middle-class voters to ignore their own interests, and oust members of Congress whose only crime was their efforts to help them weather the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.
Martin Tolchin and Susan Tolchin are co-authors of the newly published Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism from the Clubhouse to the White House...and Beyond.