Monday, October 4, 2010

Voters Who Love Too Much: When You Keep Wishing and Hoping He'll Change

Something I forgot to clarify in a previous post, when I mentioned that the Tea Party is targeting Republican as well as Democratic incumbents: that fact shows that a lack of enthusiasm for one party doesn't necessarily translate into a lot of enthusiasm for the other party. I suppose it's not surprising that the politically and intellectually unsophisticated would make this logical error (The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend), but it turns up quite often in corporate media discourse and right-wing punditry. You know how that one goes: the growing disillusionment with Obama shows that Americans want limited government, lower taxes for the rich, and the robust yeomanry celebrated by Thomas Jefferson. Well, no.

We've been hearing about something called the "Enthusiasm Gap", which is probably a better term than some, "lethargy" for example. As Thomas Jensen wrote at Public Policy Polling,
This year isn't getting away from the Democrats because voters are moving toward the Republicans en masse. But the enthusiasm gap is turning races that would otherwise be lean Democratic into toss ups, turning toss ups into leaning Republican, and turning leaning Republican into solid Republican.
The first, (predictably) anonymous commenter missed the point:
You keep on harping on the "Nobody turned against Dem, only enthusiasm". It is probably not true! A Dem voter that stays home, means that he doesn't support Dems! Might not love to vote for GOP, but doesn't want to vote Dem.
But that's the trouble with our system, isn't it? If you're pissed off at one party, you can either vote for the other party as the lesser of two evils (which will be taken as evidence that you positively like the other party), or you can stay home. If you don't support the Dems, you must in effect support the Repubs, and vice versa. Midterm elections usually have low turnout (under 40% since 1970), and the party that gets out the troops claims not only victory but a mandate, even if they only won because so many voters stayed home.

It used to be said that depression is internalized anger. You can't blame the Democratic base for being disillusioned, but they find it very difficult to get angry at the right people: the politicians they elected who betrayed them. Enthusiasm is all very well, but this pep-rally approach to politics (which, I admit, is traditional) is meant to make you stop thinking. And it works -- to a point.

So Crooks and Liars reports on this weekend's "One Nation" rally. (Thanks, by the way, to Tengrain at Crooks and Liars for linking to me this morning; I noticed the spike in my numbers and went to see what was going on there.) The corporate media have obligingly claimed that Glenn Beck got a bigger turnout, thus showing their liberal, far-left bias. Beck claimed 500,000 according to the Washington Post, though not all sources agree, but let's not forget that the Right claimed 1 or 2 million for the Tea Party Rally in Washington last year that probably drew less than 100,000, and that Obama and Barney Frank openly expressed contempt for the GLBT Equality March last October which drew about as large a crowd.

This right-wing site warned darkly that the list of organizations endorsing the One Nation rally "reads like a who’s who of the far-left in America, including some usual suspects" -- the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, etc. Of the list provided, only the Communist Party of the USA really qualifies as far-left, but who cares about facts when you're high on Fox News? The post is worth reading just for the comments, such as the person who seems to confuse Glenn Beck with "Father God."

But I find myself suspicious of the lib/prog coverage too. This NPR blogger noticed that "people who are ideologically left-of-center are frustrated too, just like those in the Tea Party movement. ... Saturday's rally showed some of the fissures in the Democratic Party." (I noticed a telling conflict between the official title of the post, "Liberals Rally in D.C. to Light Fire Under Democratic Base", and the link name, "Liberal Marchers in DC to Demand More Action on Jobs.") Was this rally an astroturf project to show support for our Glorious Leader, without whom we are doomed to return to the dark Bush Years? Was it more grassroots, a reminder that the Democratic base wants more and different than they've been getting from the Party? Much has been made of the turnout for Obama in Madison, Wisconsin a few days ago, but I wonder how many of those people came to adulate, and how many felt like Mrs. Velma Hart, whose concerns Obama brushed lightly aside at a Town Hall in September (via). Maybe that was one of the "fissures" Frank James referred to.

A lot of the libblogger coverage was like that. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones wrote about the tightening Enthusiasm Gap, quoting a poll which indicates "46 percent prefer a Republican-controlled Congress, versus 43 percent who want a Democratic-led one." I thought we already had a Republican-controlled Congress, blocking all the President's lovely plans with their obstructionist tactics. Drum suggests hopefully that "Perhaps the reality of a tea party-controlled Congress is finally sinking in." "Reality"? It isn't reality yet, and I don't think all the Republicans currently running for Congress are Teabaggers. But as Stephen Colbert says, the important thing is to Keep Fear Alive. Andrew Levine, a Senior Analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, agrees: "In short, what Democrats should do to reverse the enthusiasm gap is to scare their base" -- which is what they've been trying to do, and it doesn't seem to be working all that well. Never change a losing strategy in midstream!

Nicole Belle wrote at Crooks and Liars:
And yes, I was reminded once again that, for whatever disappointment we may feel with the way the progressive agenda has been stymied and diluted the past couple of years, every progressive voter needs to ask him/herself: Do I want to spend the next two years playing offense or defense?

Then get out in November and do the right thing.

Belle doesn't make any more sense than Kevin Drum. Which outcome represents "offense" and which represents "defense"? The left and progressives have been on the defensive since November 2008 while Obama and the Beltway lectured them for insufficient gratitude for all the great things our Leader has given us. If the Republicans take Congress in November, the left, freed from the need to defer to Obama, will be free to go on the offensive. (As Ian Welsh pointed out, for example, it will be easier to defend Social Security against the Republicans than against the Democrats.) Just as I have to laugh derisively when my right-wing acquaintance labels the batshit-crazy Right as "sober," I have to choke when I remember that these people are those who, during the Bush years, claimed to be "reality-based." The claim was as bogus then as it is now.