Powder keg

The voters are furious -- but are they madder at government or big business? That question could define the next political era
|
(5)
ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

news@sfbg.com

Ask any pollster, political consultant, or academic who studies the American electorate about the mood of the voters this year and you'll get the same one-word answer: Angry.

Everyone's pissed — the liberals, the conservatives, the moderates, the people who don't even know where they fit in. It's an unsettled time and, potentially, very bad news for a progressive agenda that seeks to address issues ranging from poverty and war to the long-term health of the public and the planet.

The Democrats, who swept into power with an enormously popular president just 18 months ago, may lose control of Congress. The tea partiers have driven the Republicans so far to the right that some candidates for Senate are openly talking about eliminating Social Security. The unemployment rate — the single most important factor in the politics of the economy — remains high and doesn't show any signs of improving.

And the progressive left seems frustrated and demoralized, particularly in California. The Golden State, which once led the nation in innovation and enlightened social policy, now seems to be leading the politically dysfunctional race to the bottom.

The nation could be headed for a dangerous era, rife with the potential for right-wing demagoguery and other nasty political schisms. The state of the economy could easily fuel a more powerful movement to shrink the scope of government and a continuing backlash against the public sector — and the financial backers of the antitax and antiregulation movement are drooling at the prospect.

But there's also a chance for progressives to seize a populist narrative and shift the discussion away from traditional disagreements and toward those areas, particularly the destructive influence on government by powerful corporations, where the grassroots right and grassroots left might actually agree.

The anger that voters feel toward a government that isn't meeting their needs is starting to find other outlets. People are as mad about the abuses of big business — the Wall Street meltdown, the bailouts, the BP oil spill, the political manipulation — as they are about the failures of Congress and the president. If you ask Americans of every political stripe who they least trust — big government or big business — even conservatives aren't so sure anymore.

For 30 years, the central narrative of American politics has revolved around the size and effectiveness of government. Now there's a chance to shift that entire debate in American politics toward the largely unchecked power of corporations. It is, populist writer Jim Hightower told us, "an enormous opportunity handed to us by the bastards."

But so far, none of the Democratic leaders in California are taking advantage of it to start dispelling damaging myths and crafting political narratives that might begin to create some popular consensus around how to deal with society's most pressing problems.

 

THE PEOPLE WANT TAXES

There have been many polls gauging voter anger, but one of the most comprehensive and interesting recent ones was "Californians and Their Government," a collaborative study by the Public Policy Institute of California and the James Irvine Foundation that was released in May.

It shows that Californians are mad about the state's fiscal problems, disgusted with their political leaders, divided by ideology, and deeply conflicted over the best way forward. An astounding 77 percent of respondents say California is headed in the wrong direction and 81 percent say the state budget situation is a "a big problem."

Comments

There is some good analysis in this cover story, but Redmond/Jones seem to be saying that the solution is to elect Jerry Brown and more Democrats. Yet, here we are under Obama/Pelosi/Reid and the federal government is still driving this country off of a cliff.

If I would have told you guys in 2008 that a President Obama would be barring the media from covering a major oil spill in the Gulf, you would have sent me to crazy-town. Yet, the US Coast Guard (which reports directly to Obama) is blocking, harassing and intimidating journalists who attempt to document this catastrophe.

Pelosi? She can't even show up for the annual Pride Parade! Not like she has a taxpayer-funded private jet to shuttle her back to Washington DC or anything, right?

And what about SF? Democrats have controlled this town completely for decades, yet here we are with crime-ridden streets, a broken down transit system, sky-high housing costs, gentrification, crumbling schools, filthy sidewalks...

I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends, and it is not pretty.

We need real electoral reform and a multi-party system to make our government accountable to the people.Only then will we be able to stop fighting over scraps. Only then will our voices be heard.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

The People Want Taxes? I don't care what think tank you are quoting. I don't think you are right. Those who want those taxes won't send extra when they file unless coerced.

Posted by hudson on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

If you want to really know why California has fallen to such low levels is simply because it has stopped being a state that offers any real opportunities- that is unless you're rich. The cost of housing is the single biggest issue in this state and somehow people in the media just don't seem to get it. People ( at least in California) are pissed off most about this issue. Frankly I don't really cars anymore because since I don't really feel like shelling out $500k for a small house, we're moving to Austin next year.

The article mentions that people want more taxes. Yes- I've seen quite a bit of this already. Hand-wringing parents who paid a pretty penny to live in an area of the Bay Area that has ( gasp) real, functioning public schools- something that about 95% of the country enjoys by default but yet here in super-gentrified yuppieville schools are in the toilet. Thus I've seen all sorts of crazy half-cooked ideas to "save the children!" with more parcel taxes, bake sales, and whatnot.

Guess what? NONE of the problems in this state are going to get fixed until the real problems are fixed first. The single biggest is Proposition 13. Ever since this law was passed the state has been on a one-way path towards fiscal destruction. What it all boils down to is that the cost of running a state as with everything else goes up over time. This is simple economics 101. Yet with Prop 13 you have this ridiculous tax structure where businesses and individual property owners get to pay 1975 era taxes on houses and businesses worth 10 times more than what they paid. In my East Bay neighborhood the average age is pushing 60. Most Bay Area towns are probably about the same. So thus therein lies the problem- inadequate funds due to a dwindling tax base.

The bottom line is this: Pass all the taxes you want. None of these will do any good because the foundation is rotten to start with. As long as prop 13 is active, the state's financial situation will only grow worse.

Again I don't really care because I am outta' here.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

Guest, I think you're right that Prop. 13 is at the core of the problems that we discussed in this article. And Hudson, you may be right that nobody likes paying taxes, but the polling we cited in the article indicates that people are more concerned now with essential services being slashed so deeply than they are with paying a big more in taxes.
Steven T. Jones

Posted by steven on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

Which is worse big business or big government? They are one and the same. Republican, Democrat it really does not matter they are both reaching into the pocket of common everyday America to make themselves wealthier. I am not sure enough people are ready to look past the diatribe and dogma they have been taught to see beyond the curtain. This country has lost millions of jobs. We have allowed unbridled greed and demand for immediate profit to jeopardize stable corporations. Long term investments and growth plans have been replaced by immediate profit. What was called corporate raiding and destruction became a way of business in the 1990s and early 2000s. Wall street is no longer investing in the future but rather solely interested in making profits today.

We were sold the lie of "get a good education, find a good career, work hard, and you will be wealthy." The truth is go into debt for an education, become a wage slave or modern day indentured servant, and all of our innovation and ability will be used to make someone else rich. We have been convinced as workers that our contribution means little and we should accept the tokens traded to us for the hours of our lives. All this so we can buy and have stuff we do not really ever own. The truth is the ONLY thing we ever really own is the skill of our hands, the ideas in our minds, and the artistry of our abilities. Yet we allow that to be taken under the bondage of debt to provide wealth to our Masters and overlords.

I do not believe people are really ready to examine how deeply they have been duped. When they are willing to see the lies then maybe you can get them to understand. Until then the corporations, the haves, will continue to take from everyone else, the soon to be halve nots, through the manipulation of our government. SInce 1974 the productivity of the average American worker has doubled. The average income has stayed pretty close to the same. The disparity between what top 10% earn and the rest of us make has grown exponentially wider. The rich get richer. The rest of us are slowly losing ground.

That will be a hard pill for anyone to swallow. Fixing it will be a hard sale.

Posted by Dani Cailin on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 1:36 am

Related articles

  • Striking Out

    Stadium concession workers — without a contract since 2010, denied tip jars, some paid less than minimum wage — aren't sharing in the San Francisco Giants' success and rising prices

  • Meet the new supervisor

    How will Christina Olague balance loyalty to Mayor Lee with the needs of the city's most progressive district?

  • Burned

    Burning Man ticket fiasco renews criticism of SF-based Black Rock City LLC

  • Also from this author

  • Sorting out a strange election

    What the Nov. 6 results mean -- and don't mean

  • "This was such a wipeout psychologically": Mirkarimi tells the story Lee didn't want to hear

  • Occupy Nation

    Let's take back the country — starting now, by planning a tour to occupy the country