Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:23 pm

Why Scott Brown really won …

Filed under: I want my money back.,Voting — Lex @ 8:23 pm
Tags: , ,

… and why Democrats ought not be feeling completely comfortable about November despite their health-care win, from economist and political scientist Thomas Ferguson at UMass Boston:

A major storm is indeed blowing up. Whether this ultimately builds into a Level 5 hurricane like Katrina is not clear. But its winds are already beyond any normal gale.

Quite like a hurricane, this tempest has a clear dual structure. Our study suggests that in the eye of the storm – the old Democratic base – an ominous, unnatural calm is settling in that displaces the near-millenarian enthusiasm of 2008. We have seen how the surge in overall voter turnout in the 2010 Senate race disguised a drop in turnout in lower income towns that previously voted heavily Democratic. Recalling one more time the problems with inferences from aggregate data, we think it is safe to conclude that our data are consistent with the claim put forward by the Democratic campaign’s chief pollster, that Obama administration’s unwillingness to face down the banks and slowness in dealing with the recession have demoralized and outraged the party’s electoral base. The disconnect between these disaffected Democrats and the administration and party leaders looks to be deep.

What’s driving the trend? Not just the economy in general, but something a little more specific — and I haven’t seen this observation anywhere else:

Our statistical tests indicate that declines in housing values operated independently to depress the Democratic vote share. We think it is unlikely that the housing variable is merely a proxy for some other unmeasured factor, such as income. Instead, we suspect that our result drives to the heart of the “Tea Party” phenomenon. Put simply, our data are consistent with the notion that a good part of the swing toward Scott Brown came from voters who were not only frightened by high unemployment – their own, or their neighbors’ – but who also suffered large losses in wealth from the collapse of the housing bubble. For most Americans, their greatest economic asset is their house. We thus suspect that the housing collapse is also likely associated with major declines, or potential declines, in retirement incomes. Particularly for older voters, this has to be very alarming.

And how are people reacting?

But we are dubious that such [racist/anti-Semitic] groups are the heart of the Tea Party phenomenon, at least right now. They have been out in force since at least the waning days of the 2008 campaign, when their apocalyptic rhetoric eventually provoked Senator John McCain to repudiate them in public. That they should exfoliate on the scale of the Tea Party this late strikes us as implausible.

It seems more likely that the citizens rallying under the Tea Party banner are pretty much what they say they are. They are ordinary Americans hammered by the almost Biblical series of economic plagues that for most began in the fall of 2008, when the decision to let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt turned a looming economic crisis into a world historical disaster. They have been driven to the breaking point by watching their jobs and retirement savings melt away as banks hit them with steeply rising fees on their credit and debit cards while paying next to nothing on what is left of their cash holdings.

While few likely understand what Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson did with AIG, TARP, the FDIC guarantees, and the other largess they showered on the big banks, these ordinary Americans see clearly that government moved with the speed of light to rescue Wall Street. They also understand the message that the President’s decision to promote Geithner and retain Bernanke sent to Wall Street – and what it heralds for issues important to them, such as consumer finance. Looking at years of sub- or unemployment, their exasperation only increases when they hear the President or his economic advisor Lawrence Summers proclaim that the recession is ending and defend the right of bank managements to pay themselves gigantic bonuses barely a year after their institutions were rescued by taxpayers’
money.

Given the absurdity of the notion that Republicans are going to do anything to hold the banksters accountable — indeed, all available evidence strongly suggests otherwise — why are Democrats in such trouble?

You’ll love this: It’s because of the liberal media:

… democratic enlightenment and exploration of policy alternatives are hardly the principal concern
of contemporary corporate media. But all of them, especially Fox News and the network of right wing talk
radio commentators, trumpet conservative economic appeals.

At a time when real disposable per capita income minus government transfer payments (or “take home pay minus government assistance”) has sunk to its lowest levels since the giant recession of the early 1970s, most major television and radio networks continue to trumpet both efficient markets and the imagined evils of Keynesian, countercyclical programs. With only modest exceptions, so does the money-driven world of think tanks, the rest of the press, and the government itself.

We are thus driven to conclude that the sometimes wild assertions and arguments advanced by Tea Partiers largely reflect the poverty of economic and political analysis in the establishment media. Indeed, the U.S. case bears an unsettling similarity to the situation in many parts of the parts of the Middle East. Political establishments and governments refuse to countenance critical discussion of social and economic problems. They marginalize alternative views, while beating the drums unceasingly for orthodoxy. When a crisis hits, however, no one believes them.

So when the MSM doesn’t do the reporting necessary to reflect reality accurately — for whatever reason — you get the kind of crazy we have in the Tea Party once you filter out the fringe racism and anti-Semitism:

So disaffected citizens set to work with the only tools they have – bits and snatches of traditional economic and political thinking – to analyze their predicament on their own. It should not be surprising that such efforts often end up being hard to tell apart from Alice in Wonderland or even Goya’s Black Paintings.

And that’s what we have today: America is being devoured.

Goya: "Saturn Devouring His Son"

From Goya's "Black Paintings": "Saturn Devouring His Son"

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