Why Americans Are Anxious, Angry, and Scared

Where is that good old American optimism?


You can feel it on the Hill, you can feel it within the White House, you can sense it in most households across the country. Anxiety, fear, anger.

The right track, wrong track numbers, as we define the general mood of the nation, are not good. Now, Americans believe by 62 to 29 we are off on the wrong track, not heading in the right direction. These are the worst numbers of the Obama presidency.

Of course, President Bush fared much worse, with only 12 percent believing we were headed in the right direction in October of 2008 and 78 percent feeling we were off on the wrong track.

President Obama’s job approval numbers are a bit higher than Bill Clinton’s in 1994 and Ronald Reagan’s in 1982. Both were dealing with recessions and Reagan was in the midst of 10 months of unemployment over 10 percent. In fact, in October of 1982 the number was 10.8 percent.

As we know, both Clinton and Reagan came roaring back, as did the economy. [See 10 keys to an Obama comeback.]

So why are we so concerned this time? Where is that good old American optimism?

I have a theory. Well, two actually.

The first, is that we have a combination of wild swings in our political poll numbers that matches the wild swing in the stock market and the ups and downs with the economy. This is a double whammy for citizens--hope for rapid change brought on by an election, then continued gridlock and perception of continued problems one right after another--financial collapse, foreclosures, car companies on the brink, billions in bailouts, oil spills, two wars, terrorist attempts--what more is needed for a disaster movie!!??

The rapid changes in the stock market have added to the lack of confidence in our politics and our leaders. No one knows what to expect next; there is a lack of stability, certainty, and reliability.

That is toxic for incumbents in an election year. [Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.]

The second theory relates to the unusual situation where a vast majority of Americans blame the Republicans and the past administration for the problems we now face. Couple that with a serious lack of faith that Republicans have any answers or plans to help solve the problem. The tendency to vote against the Democrats right now because of the anger and the fear is somewhat offset by the lack of confidence in the Republicans. They are at their lowest level in 26 years according to a Washington Post poll that indicated only 20 percent identify as Republicans.

There is no Newt Gingrich offering up a Contract with America and the far right blowhards such as Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter and Ingraham have hijacked the Republican Party, leading Independents to become increasingly skeptical.

So, although not a great deal will probably change when it comes to the overall mood of the country between now and November, the campaigns have yet to seriously start and Republicans have little to offer.

The bottom line is that this will unfold not just like 1982 when Reagan lost 26 House seats or 1994 when Clinton lost over 50 seats, but probably somewhere in-between.

  • Check out this month’s best political cartoons.
  • Follow the money in Congress.
  • See 10 keys to an Obama comeback.