Monday, October 18, 2010

The People’s Chamber

our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time . . . because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared.

--President Obama, 10.16.10

Micky Kaus, in Newsweek, notes how close Obama’s words are to his most disastrous comment from the 2008 campaign, when he said Pennsylvanians “cling to guns and God” out of fear. Kaus rightly makes the comparison—Obama in two elections warning to watch out for voters who are afraid, and twice slighting voters in the process. But what gets my attention is Obama’s pronouncement that “facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning.”

[Picture: Democratic House Speaker John Nance Garner (1931-33), later (1933-41) Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president.] Since 1930, a period of 80 (“four score”) years, the Democratic thinking party, the one with the brains and with “facts and science and argument” on its side, has not only dominated the intellectual life of America, it has with few exceptions controlled the U.S. House of Representatives, “the people’s chamber“.

Even when our intellectuals/Democratic Party failed to control the White House or the Senate, it was comforting for them to know the House remained Democratic. That meant the people symbolically endorsed leadership by their betters, Democrats steeped in “facts and science and argument.” In 1946, when post-war hyperinflation and related strikes for higher wages swept the country, and in 1952, when the nation elected Eisenhower and Republicans after Democrats gave us the Korean War and (again) inflation, the House did pass briefly out of Democratic hands. But both times, Democrats were back in control within two years.

The only major break in Democratic domination of the “people’s chamber” occurred from 1994 to 2006. Republicans argued that as liberal intellectuals gained full control over the Democratic Party, the people responded by voting Republican six successive times. The national elite, led by the media, went all-out to disprove any assertion that the people had left Democrats behind; they saw loss of the House as a temporary aberration. ABC anchor Peter Jennings said of the 1994 GOP take-over of Congress, “The voters had a temper tantrum last week... Parenting and governing don't have to be dirty words: the nation can't be run by an angry two-year-old."

As I have written, after the 1994 election and the Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich-led shut-down of government in December 1995, the media dropped their “plague on both your houses” approach to persons in power. Media worked to change the landscape back to "normal" Democratic control by successively demonizing Republicans Gingrich, Impeachment Independent Counsel Ken Starr, and especially President George W. Bush over the next decade, succeeding when Democrats recaptured Congress in 2006. Democrats believe that in the aftermath of 9.11, Republicans delayed the rightful restoration of power to the party of “facts and science and argument” by demagoging “the war on terror” in both the 2002 and 2004 elections.

But underneath, the liberal/media elite do worry the national majority may no longer be with Democrats. Look at how Time's Joe Klein riles against the “classic American myth, perpetrated by Hollywood . . .with 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'", of the “inspired amateur” who “actually read[s] the bills he was about to vote on, then mak[es] up his own mind.” To Klein, Jimmy Stewart ("Mr. Smith") is “a lovely fantasy.” The reality is Republican senate candidate Christine O'Donnell of Delaware:
attractive, to some, because she doesn't know anything. She couldn't . . . ever be confused with a member of the elites; there is no way she could be confused with an above average high school student. Her ignorance. . . makes her authentic-- the holy grail of latter-day American politics: she's a real person, not like those phony politicians. In that sense, she—[along] with other Tea Party know-nothings--follow in the wake of our leading exemplar of ignorant authenticity, Sarah Palin.

Klein's article drips with condescension. We are witnessing the masses taking over from their betters, and he doesn't like it. Klein's rejects majority rule replacing rule by a superior minority, the same elite rule justification for holding power we earlier found "Slate's" Jacob Weisberg defending. To Klein,"There is something profoundly diseased about a society that idolizes its ignoramuses and disdains its experts. It is a society that no longer takes itself seriously."

More insults aimed at both Republicans and the population supporting them.

Going into this election, the question before us seems clear. Are we better off when big government, controlled by an elite blessed with “facts and science and argument,” gathers our resources and makes the decisions for the rest of us that create or don't create jobs? The answer seems equally clear: "No." Time for the people to reclaim their chamber.


Tyler said...

It's really funny to me, a cab driver from Peoria, to read the words of a Republican politician, a State and City economic development executive, with a PHD in Public Affairs from Princeton...

characterizing Democrats as too intellectual and elite to lead the people.

Two questions: when was the last time you had to work to survive and who are these people who are more elite than you? Specifics please, names and reasons they are more elite than you. Thank you.

Galen Fox said...

Thank you for your comment, Tyler. As to your two questions, 1) I was employed without interruption and surviving on my earnings from 1967 to 2005; I’m now retired and living on social security, two small pensions, and rent minus costs from a small apartment I inherited and hope to pass to my children, sharing costs for a larger apartment with my wife, and; 2) if elite status is defined by education alone, I belong in the elite.

My blog is full of entries on our elite, including different efforts to define it. Personally, I believe in democracy— none of us are better than anyone else; everybody’s vote is worth the same. So I try to understand why many Democrats seem comfortable living in a meritocracy that elevates the best educated to the top and allows our betters to characterize as stupid others such as George Bush (!—Yale, Harvard) or Sarah Palin (yeah). I think our bright Democrats are comfortable doing so partly because we are all equal when we enter pre-school or kindergarten, and after that, it’s up to us. Democrats seem to value earned education the way Republicans value earned income.

Still this is America, “one person, one vote,” America where we fought a revolution to throw off a British elite based on nobility. Most of us hate the idea of being called elite, and I guess I’m finding it to be an explosive issue.

Tyler said...

Ok, so what you're saying is if we're considering income, you aren't in the category of "elite," and I'm sure that's true, you're probably middle to upper middle class even in retirement.

But when was the last time you had to worry about when the rent would get paid and how food would find the table?

That's a pretty large line that separates those who live in America and those who live about two steps above what you've defined as "real America."

But I'm probably judging you too harshly, for being a Republican, not exactly elite, but certainly (in my opinion) furthering the interests of the elite by buying into the idea that the party who has clearly demonstrated less concern for working class Americans when priced against the interest of big business.

I can't give much credit to the Democrats either. Politicians in general have sold the keys to the shop.

Just don't try to sell me policies that allow corporations, lobbying interests and the free market to prevail over human rights, and the ability of the American people to freely pursuit happiness.

Republicans, Democrats, and most people who securely live above that line of week to week survival, act rationally in favor of themselves, at the expense of those you call "Real Americans." The policies they support and sell have made them comfortable.

You're kind of selling your own status in the wide spectrum of poverty, struggle, wealth, and security short, but there's a bit of truth in that.

What you've earned isn't quite enough in your eyes. You want to be able to keep more of it, to pass a larger chunk on to your children, protect it from anyone else who might want a piece, through an estate tax, or pretty much any's all understandable.

It makes sense for you because that's your interest. Just don't try to tell working class Americans those policies...the ones your Republican party champions... as if they are in our best interest as well.

It's a bit insulting.

Galen Fox said...

Tyler, thank you again for a thoughtful comment. Politics begins with self-interest, and I fully accept that if you see your personal interest best served by Democratic Party's progressive taxation (nearly half America pays no Federal income tax), you are going to vote Democratic. I understand. Please accept that I pay very little in Federal tax, and do not advocate a progressive tax policy that benefits me personally.

I moved from Democrat to Republican because I became convinced that government does economics badly, and should get out of the way on picking economic winners and losers. Good things come from economic growth--first and foremost jobs. The most important economic benefit a person can have is a job. Job means dignity, the feeling of worth, of being part of what makes the economy go. FDR understood this thoroughly, and bent Federal policies toward job creation. Do Democrats do so today? I don't think so. The real heroes in America are the people you see differently than I do--small business persons who create jobs.

You have suggested to me that when one is in a bad job, the most important thing may be not a job, but a better job. Or maybe, that in the end, it's not the job, but the money. You are in a better position to say this; I have always loved my jobs, and I know many Americans don't. I respect your opinion, and thank you for sharing it. I guess my reply would be that a growing economy offers more jobs, more money for each job, and a wider choice of jobs. Our current bad economy really does bother me.