Sunday, August 7, 2011

Americans’ Disapproval Of “Spoiled Children” And “Disgusting Jokes”

It will be inappropriate to discern results from recent polls on performance of the US Congress as a crisis. But it is significant. A number of polls show: significant percentage of the Americans taking part in the polls are not happy with their legislature and with both the parties. The disapproval is at its historic low, the lowest ever in more than three decades.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showed only 14% of the respondents approved the Congress’ debt ceiling performance.
A CBS News/New York Times poll showed that 82% of the respondents disapproved the way Congress has conducted the debt ceiling job.
A Pew Research Center poll showed the overall dissatisfaction the respondents felt to their legislators after the debt ceiling debate.
The CBS News/New York Times poll indicated that more than 80% of the respondents believed that the debt debate was more about political gain than about doing what was best for the US. About 75% opined that the debt negotiations harmed US image abroad. It indicated an 84% disapproval rating. It showed that 77% of respondents believed that their elected officials acted like “spoiled children” during the debt ceiling talks. The NYT poll score was the worst score since it started asking Americans to rate Congress back in 1977.
The Pew poll asked the respondents’ feelings about their elected officials. “Ridiculous”, “disgusting”, “childish”, “joke”, and similar terms were used. This increased the negative listing to 72%. Only 2% responded positively.
The protracted debt ceiling debate brought the US government to the door of shutdown. It was also facing a possible default for the first time in its history.
A single performance or a few days’ conducting of business by a state organization or a single factor does not shape public attitude. Overall situation casts its shadow on public perception. Condition of the US public is not happy one for long time. This is reflected in public reactions/expressions, protest, etc., and in a part of mainstream media despite capital’s control over it.
After the defeat of the first bailout bill Time wrote: “There was a lack of trust, a loss of confidence, a popular revolt.” On voting no by the majority it wrote: “This is a remarkable event, the culmination of a historic sense of betrayal that Americans have long felt for their representatives in Washington. The[…]credit crisis…exposed a much deeper and more fundamental problem: a crisis of political credibility that now threatens to harm our nation further[…]The problem has been growing for years. Roughly 28% of Americans approve of President Bush. Roughly 18% of Americans approve of Congress. Now those low numbers and majority of bad feelings have manifested themselves in the starkest of terms [….A] critical mass of voters refused to trust their leaders[…T]he nation now risks great financial hardship, because there was no one to […] explain the situation.[…]Years ago, the trust between the people and their politicians was broken. Credibility was lost. The reserve of goodwill went bankrupt. And when they needed it most, our nation’s leaders found that they had squandered their ability to exert influence over the people who chose them to lead. (“The Bailout Defeat: A Political Credibility Crisis”)
The reality of lost credibility is much wide, and much deeper.
Joe Klein, a Time journalist, made an “Election Road Trip” in 2010. He traveled more than 6,000 miles and “talked to dozens of politicians […] and hundreds of voters. The voters […] tended to be extremely frustrated with the national conversation[,] tended to be more anxious than angry.” He “found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection. There was a unanimous sense that Washington was broken beyond repair. But the disgraceful behavior of the financial community, and its debilitating effects on the American economy over the past 30 years, was the issue that raised the most passion, […] Many Americans also were confused and frustrated by the constant state of war since […] 9/11. But for every occasion they raised Afghanistan, they mentioned China 25 times; economics completely trumped terrorism as a matter of concern.” (Time, “Encountering Anguish and Anxiety Across America”, Oct. 18, 2010)
Poverty, hunger, rich-poor gap, unemployment, bulldozing foreclosed houses, rising education costs, etc. are now almost overwhelming facts of American way of life. The following New York datelined news report on pawn shops reveals at least a part of common Americans’ way life.
“Profits at pawn shop operator Ezcorp Inc. have jumped by an average 46 percent annually for five years. The stock has doubled from a year ago, to about $38.
“And companies profiting from their bad fortune will continue to do so.
“Among them:
“Stock in payday lender Advance America Cash Advance Centers (AEA) has doubled […] to just under $8. Rival Cash America International Inc. (CSH) is up 64 percent, to $58. Such firms typically provide high interest loans -- due on payday -- to people who can’t borrow from traditional lenders.
“Profits at Encore Capital Group, a debt collector […] rose nearly 50 percent last year. […]The stock (ECPG) is up 59 percent from a year ago, to more than $30.
“Stock in Rent-A-Center (RCII), which leases televisions, couches, computers and more, is up 57 percent from a year ago to nearly $32.
“On top of that, one in seven Americans now live below the poverty line, a 17-year high.
“It’s that things could get worse -- making customers too poor to borrow or buy even from these outfits. Rent-A-Center, the furniture store, is already suffering. Some of its core low-income shoppers have seen money they would have spent leasing a couch or cocktail table eaten up by rising food and fuel bills.
“[…]According to Nick Mitchell, an analyst at Northcoast Research, wealthier customers, say those making $45,000, are feeling so strapped lately that they’re starting to rent furniture, too.” (AP, “How bad is it? Pawn shops, payday lenders are hot down on the US?”, July 8, 2011)
The news report shows the US citizens’ living reality: increasing poverty or tough economic condition engulfing many and increasing profit of capital that thrives on tough economic condition. At the same time, the citizens are coming across news/information on life of the ultra-rich, human and financial costs of wars, and performance of elected representatives. These and similar incidents are influencing public perception. Strong anguish, rejection, desperation, etc. are being reflected in many ways including through trifling and sarcastic style. A survey result shows a part of the style.
A North Carolina based Public Policy Polling’s survey results, released on July 21, 2011, found that 52% of the 928 respondents approve of the job the Almighty’s done while 9% disapprove. A question in the survey was: “If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its performance?” The news report presenting the survey finding said: “So about half the public isn’t too thrilled with the way God is handling, well, everything.” (The Atlantic Wire, “Only 52% of Americans Approve of God's Job Performance”, Jul 21, 2011)
Disapproval of a politician or another carries a significance, and disapproval of an institution or an organ of state carries another significance. The significance in the case of institution is more than in cases of individuals (obviously with exceptions). The difference is more in terms of quality than quantity.
The ironies, disapproval, etc. expressed in the above mentioned polls, etc. are not final and static expression of public “mind”. There is no doubt that the Congress’ approval rating will improve. But this may again dip down. However, the “mind” will develop further despite manipulation by capital controlled media as media’s manipulation power is not stronger than facts of life. At one stage, facts of life overwhelm media’s power as media cannot fill stomach although it can make one feel happy for a certain period. But hard facts of hard life throw away manipulated feeling of happiness. Media can stuff itself with celebrity gossips and photographs, but cannot keep people aloof and apolitical for long time from the feeling of suffering. That feeling leads people to search for the causes of suffering.