Feast of fools

Lewis Lapham:

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.


Best of all, at least from the point of view of the commercial oligarchy paying for both the politicians and the press coverage, the issue is never about the why of who owes what to whom, only about the how much and when, or if, the check is in the mail. No loose talk about what is meant by the word democracy or in what ways it refers to the cherished hope of liberty embodied in the history of a courageous people.


The campaigns don’t favor the voters with the gratitude and respect owed to their standing as valuable citizens participant in the making of such a thing as a common good. They stay on message with their parsing of democracy as the ancient Greek name for the American Express card, picturing the great, good American place as a Florida resort hotel wherein all present receive the privileges and comforts owed to their status as valued customers, invited to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping, to select wisely from the campaign advertisements, texting A for Yes, B for No.


The sales pitch bends down to the electorate as if to a crowd of restless children, deems the body politic incapable of generous impulse, selfless motive, or creative thought, delivers the insult with a headwaiter’s condescending smile. How then expect the people to trust a government that invests no trust in them? Why the surprise that over the last 30 years the voting public has been giving ever-louder voice to its contempt for any and all politicians, no matter what their color, creed, prior arrest record, or sexual affiliation? The congressional disapproval rating (78% earlier this year) correlates with the estimates of low attendance among young voters (down 20% from 2008) at the November polls.


I was talking about this when I was on Mark Thompson’s radio show the other night: That our candidates never say a genuine word, there’s no authentic discussion of what we need, and certainly no attempt at actual leadership. It’s all very un-democratic, it seems. They don’t trust voters enough to tell them the truth. Truth, in our national politics, is like a hologram. A simulation.

Can we believe them?

I seem to remember a similar letter about the public option:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and 28 other members of the 53-member Senate Democratic caucus have signed a letter opposing any cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction package.


The letter forms a significant marker as Congress looks toward a possible deficit bargain in the lame-duck session after the election. It says Social Security has problems down the road, but that they should be dealt with separately from any budget deal.


Cuts to Social Security and other entitlements are seen as key to getting the bipartisan cooperation of Republicans in any deal, just as revenue increases are key for Democrats. The Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan produced by President Obama’s deficit commission contained Social Security cuts, including a change in the way inflation is calculated and an increase in the retirement age.


The letter could reduce the chances for a long-term, multi-trillion-dollar deal soon. Congress will need to put some kind of deal in place before January to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of indiscriminate spending cuts and tax increases.


The Senate’s number three Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), also signed the letter. Notably, Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who supported Bowles-Simpson, did not.

Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Solving the puzzle

(Medical stuff is boring to a lot of people, so if you’re one of them, skip this post.)

I saw the physiatrist yesterday, and I mentioned that my GP thinks the pain in my upper arms — the same pain the physiatrist thought was a rotator cuff tear – is from a herniated disk in my neck. “Hmm,” he said.

He made me push back from varying positions and said, “It’s not an unreasonable conclusion, but you have no weakness in your arms,” he said. “I don’t know that we can rule it out completely, but it doesn’t seem likely.” He said an MRI would probably help — except that even if I did have a herniated disk, it didn’t really prove anything. “Just about everyone 40 and older has at least one herniated disk,” he said.

But he thought it might be helpful to try some deep acupuncture in my neck and upper back, so we did. A couple of the spots ALMOST SENT ME THROUGH THE ROOF when he stuck in the needles, but he said that indicated we were on the right track. He said if I had arthritis, or a herniated disk, it was likely that my muscles spasmed to protect the area — and since my upper back and neck are always as hard as a rock, even after myofascial work, that seemed to confirm his theory.

I have to say, my neck feels really good right now. Much looser than usual! That’s the thing I love about acupuncture: If it’s going to work, you feel better right away. Stay tuned!

White working-class voters don’t like either candidate

And really, who can blame them?

White, working-class Americans get a more nuanced look in a new survey out today from the Public Religion Research Institute. The big takeaway? It’s not all guns, God, and the GOP for one of the most targeted demographics of this election season.


The survey defines the group—which makes up about 36 percent of all Americans—as “non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs.” That group is mainly compared to white, college educated Americans, over the course of the PRRI results.


Mitt Romney has a double-digit lead over Obama with working-class white voters (48-35), but things get more complicated when broken down a bit more. Romney fares the best among southern voters and men in the group, but has no significant lead over the incumbent among Catholics, women, or non-southern members of the group.


Perhaps tellingly, neither candidate is particularly well-liked by the demographic: Just 45 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Romney, only one percentage point more than said the same thing about Obama. By contrast, George W. Bush had a favorability rating of 51 percent in the survey.

Despite everything that’s happened, some people still want to have a beer with Shrub! Oy.


Here are a few more takeaways from the survey:

  • 70 percent of white, working class Americans agree that the economic system in the U.S. unfairly favors wealthy people. Eight-in-ten believe that outsourced jobs are either somewhat or very responsible for economic instability in the U.S.
  • While the demographic was no more likely than white, college-educated Americans to say that the Tea Party movement shared their values (34 percent vs. 31 percent), they’re half as likely to support Occupy Wall Street (28 percent vs. 16 percent). By contrast, the two groups had about equal support for the labor movement (31 percent vs. 29 percent).
  • Just 1-in-20 cite abortion or same-sex marriage as the most important issue for their vote. And the group is divided on those issues, with about half opposing same-sex marriage. Half of those surveyed also responded that abortion should be legal in most or all instances.

Greg Sargent:

Nearly two thirds of working class whites want to hike taxes on those over $1 million. More than half say one of our biggest problems is that we “don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.” Seventy-eight percent of them blame America’s economic problems on corporations moving jobs overseas and 69 percent on Wall Street making risky decisions.


In fairness, 69 percent also blame government regulation and 64 percent blame Obama’s policies. But as Molly Ball notes, there is clearly a strong strain of economic populism and a powerful skepticism about unfettered capitalism among them.


And this gets us back to what this is all about. Obama is hammering Romney over Bain outsourcing, his own wealth and low tax rates, his proposed tax cuts for the rich, and the ways the overall Romney/Ryan agenda would redistribute wealth upward, because these voters are clearly receptive to this kind of populism. Romney, meanwhile, is countering all that with his own message about all the ways Obama allegedly wants to redistribute wealth downward to the dependent poor, a narrative that may also resonate with their views.

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