Sorry, I keep coming up with these theories--let me test this one out and see what people think. I have been mulling this over for a while.
My theory is that there is a huge gap between what we have been taught to expect from government, from the private sector, from society in general, and what is being delivered. Most of us have grown up now in the post TV-sitcom era. Our nightly shows, beginning in the 1950s, were designed to introduce characters, present a problem or dilemma and solve it all in the space of 24 minutes, allowing time for commercials. We were ingrained with the notion that problems were easy to solve. Heck, if Father Knows Best could do it in a half hour or Bonanza could take 48 minutes, as Alfred E. Neuman would say in Mad magazine, “What, Me Worry?”
Couple those ingrained “solve it now” TV sitcoms with the explosion of technology where everything is increasingly instantaneous and everyone’s expectations are raised and you encourage immediate gratification. Everything about our culture now eschews patience.
Voters clearly are not patient, not ready to provide their leaders with any “benefit of the doubt.” Voters are increasingly angry with the status quo, with Washington, with those in charge at all levels. They are certainly not at all sanguine when they have lost their jobs, had their homes foreclosed on, lost money in savings and retirement, watched as their earnings have declined and the costs of education, healthcare, and housing have skyrocketed. Why, for heaven’s sake, should we blame voters for the mood they have been in for several years?
So, the question is, has the overall psyche of Americans changed? Have we become less accepting of things as they are, of problems that we are confronting, of the ups and downs? Have Americans begun to be less hopeful and optimistic?
Small wonder, when they see the stock market soar hundreds of points the last few days after it tanked a similar amount a little more than a week ago. If you check your investments (if you have any) on a daily basis you would have mental, physical and financial whiplash. You can’t trust anything from day to day when it comes to the stock market. And often there is no rhyme or reason for the wild fluctuations.
So we see poll numbers bounce all over the place--if you are an office holder or candidate, you are a hero one moment, a bum the next. Your numbers are like the stock market except most of the direction is down.
Candidates always sensed the importance of promising, of providing the answer, of tapping into that “elect me, I’ll take care of it” notion. Jimmy Carter said that all we needed was “a government as good and as honest and as decent as the American people.” Our problems could and would be solved. After Watergate and Nixon, this sounded pretty good. After a quarter century of watching TV shows where all the problems were solved at a sitting, this all seemed logical.
Of course, by 1980 we had hostages in Iran and misery indexes and our problems weren’t being solved in 24 minute chunks. We had a national “malaise.”
George W. Bush promised to “change Washington” in 2000 and left with approval ratings in the 20s. Barack Obama has watched as his poll numbers have plummeted basically because the economy has not rebounded fast enough.
So, as politically hard as it may be, is it time for us to admit we can’t have our cake and eat it too; we can’t reduce deficits and have the kind of services we demand without taxes; we can’t pay for wars and a volunteer military without sacrifice; we can’t expect to solve our toughest problems without making tough choices.
Will our nation accept leaders who admit that attacking entitlements will mean changes in expectations, raising the retirement age for Social Security, not guaranteeing large cost of living increases, restructuring Medicare and Medicaid, even reducing certain services?
Will we embrace politicians who campaign on proposals for national service, for increased sacrifice by those at the upper ends of the economic spectrum, and who will call for rethinking our entire pension and retirement system?
Will we see candidates who stop blathering about “freedom” and “socialism” and actually admit that these problems are tough to solve and need an honest and direct dialogue with the American people? And will we see more politicians who believe that the government at all levels has a real role in solving these problems and believe that, after all, the government is us.
The time to push the problems down the road is long past.
Candidates and office holders can’t continue to sugar coat where we are and promise easy answers--this ain’t Father Knows Best any more.