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Living While Holding Your Breath

Pessimism, USA

by DAVID ROSEN

The long hot summer is upon us and, as the temperature rises, Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about ever digging out of the Great Recession. More troubling, many believe that the country is on the verge sinking into a second Great Depression.

The findings from a handful of early-June 2011 opinion polls reiterate the same message: while President Obama showed a jump in approval following the killing of bin Laden, he is slipping into political quicksand for failing to address the moribund economy.

A review of some of the big-name public opinion polls, including ABC/Washington Post, CNN, Gallup, Rasmussen and Zogby, tell the same story. Americans are growing increasingly discouraged with the wait-and-things-will-get-better (we hope) strategy promoted over the last two years by Obama, mainstream Democrats and the Federal Reserve. The data from these polls give voice to findings from the Dept. of Labor’s most recent report on the worsening employment situation and the slowdown of the economic “recovery.”

Most exasperating, their policy of unfailing support for the banks and corporate interests and near-complete disregard for the needs of American working people and homeowners has caught up with Obama and the Democratic leadership. They have failed on three accounts:

? They have failed to provide Americans with a coherent analysis of where we are today and how we got here ? an analysis of the structural changes remaking the economy and American life.

? They have failed to offer the American public a meaningful go-forward plan, with a realistic timetable, of how the nation can be re-invigorated ? and if it cannot, if the “American Century” is truly over*, what comes next?

? They have failed to show leadership by not fighting for a meaningful go-forward program ? even if such an approach is doomed; compromise or capitulation to inside-the-Beltway political reality is not necessarily an expression of leadership.

[* See "The End of the American Century?: Suffering the New Normal," CounterPunch, September 10-11, 2010]

No wonder the transparently fictional promises of the Republicans, most evident in calls to end corporate “regulation” and taxes, sound appealing to some.

* * *

The American media has turned the coverage of politics into a veritable rollercoaster. One day a politician is up, a hero who can do no wrong; the next day the tides have turned and s/he is fighting for their political life. And this is far more fundamental than Rep. Anthony Weiner’s weenie roast.

The combination of the 24/7 news cycle, the growing array of media outlets, the talking-head bloviators and the endless quoting of polling data have created a deafening cacophony of political noise that is intended to drown out thoughtful consideration. This has created a situation where more is less; the flood of noise is dispiriting. Citizens are increasingly required to impose greater intellectual disciple and reflection, more time and thought, in order to make sense of the trivia and distraction flashing before them.

Nevertheless, polling data can be useful as measuring indicators like a patient’s pulse or temperature readings. And, like a doctor assessing a patient’s condition, readings reflect a moment in time and shouldn’t be used in isolation of other findings. In this way, data from a handful of recent polls can help situate the current crisis that a growing number of Americans are experiencing.

Focusing on Obama’s overall assessment and, if available, his handling of the economy, the polls and their results are as follows:

? ABC/Washington Post (June 2-5) overall: approval = 40%; disapprove = 59%.

? CNN/Opinion Research (June 8) economy: approval = 48%; disapprove = 48%.

? Gallup (June 8) economy: approval = 37%; disapprove = 60%.

? Rasmussen (June 8) overall: approval = 48%; disapprove = 51%.

? Zogby (June 3) overall: approval = 48%; disapprove = 48%.

More revealing, the CNN and Rasmussen polls invoked the Great Depression of the 1930s to place today’s situation in context. Their analyses of this issue reveal the depth of panic underlying popular concerns about the state of the U.S. economy, Obama’s leadership and the nation’s future.

According to the Rasmussen poll:

The number of Americans who think the economy will spiral into a depression similar to the 1930s is now at its highest level since March 2000. Fifty percent (50%) believe it is at least somewhat likely that there will be a 1930s-like depression in the next few years, including 26% who say it is Very
Likely. Forty-one percent (41%) say a new Great Depression is unlikely, but that includes just nine percent (9%) who think it’s Not At All Likely.

According to the CNN poll:

Forty-eight percent say that another Great Depression is likely to occur in the next year – the highest that figure has ever reached. The survey
also indicates that just under half live in a household where someone has lost a job or are worried that unemployment may hit them in the
near future. The poll was conducted starting Friday, when the Labor Department reported that the nation’s jobless rate edged up to 9.1
percent.

One reporter observed, “That’s not just economic pessimism – that’s economic fatalism.”

* * *

The “American Century” is over.

During the three decades following the Second World War, from 1945 to 1975, the nation achieved unparralled domestic prosperity and global hegemony. In the second phase of post-War modernization, from 1975 to 2000, from the ’73 oil embargo to the popping of the tech bubble, America witnessed a fundemental reordering: globalization took control, finance capital replaced manufacturing as capitalism’s driving force and a two-tier Amercian society was forged.

Now, in the face of capitalism’s restructuring into a truly global enterprise, America is being subject to a form of post-modern “structural adjustment,” not dissimiliar to what is happening in Europe. Finance capital’s third-world economic police force has come home with a vengence.

Today, the U.S. is stuck, confronting an historical sea change. It is being restructed from a nation of shared prosperity to one of oligarchy and poverty, from a society of relative social equality to one of the super-rich “haves” and the rest of us “have-nots.”

Most Americans live at the intersection of earning the next dollar and paying the latest bill. They live squeezed by the Big Squeeze, of today’s financial uncertainty and doubt, of living holding-one’s-breath.

The Tea Party movement first expressed popular rage over the restructuring of the American economy. It reflected the genuine fears of a sizeable segment of the aging, insecure, white (often racists), conservative and Christian populace. It screamed loud and was heard.

Not surprising, having been organized and funded by well-financed conservative and Republican operatives, the politicians and legislative solutions it initially championed are turning out to only make worse the lives of an increasing number of the more vulnerable Tea Party proponents. Tea Party ideology and politics is being exposed as the con job it always was; this is most evident in the growing rejection of Rep. Paul Ryan’s “vouchercare” plan.

Obama and the Democratic leadership have their proverbial fingers crossed. They are politically adrift, offering neither a meaningful analysis of the current crisis nor a workable plan to address it. Drift and inertia are their political watchwords. Obama will likely be reelected: if the nation does not fall into a true second Great Depression, if the nation does not suffer a terrorist crisis akin to 9/11, and if the Republicans offer up a second-rate candidate. A lot of “ifs.”

An Obama victory might be worse than a Republican victory. Under Obama, the economic and social policies of Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers are likely to persist. The interests of the super-rich and finance capital will be furthered; the concerns of the rest of us will not be heard.

One of the great apocryphal tales of the Great Depression involves a meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt and labor activists Roy Wilkins and Sidney Hillman. Pushed by their demands, he ostensibly challenged them, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Obama faces a comparable situation.

Self-conscious progressives, broad-minded moderate citizenry (i.e., the majority of the voting public) and decent, a-political Americans (i.e., citizens who do not vote) have been slow to come to a boil. Like Tea Party advocates, they know that America’s economic situation is dire; they are living the social crisis.

In light of the uprising in Madison and the growing number of angry constituents greeting Republican Congressmen throughout the country, political resistance is beginning to bubble up. The election of 2012 is not that far away. On their own, Obama and the Democratic leadership will not embrace progressive policies to address the deepening economic and social crisis America faces. Something far more radical is required. Dare to struggle; dare to win.

David Rosen is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009). He can be reached at drosen@ix.netcom.com.

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